…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World
After reading about Charles Lamb last year I decided to follow that up by reading the collection of Shakespeare’s works he co-authored with his sister, Mary Lamb. It’s an abridged version, originally aimed at children, but seemed like an ideal way for me to get the gist of the other tales/plays beyond Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet that I studied at school. Each story is in nice bite-sized and easily-digestible format, that can be consumed in one sitting; I usually turn to the book once I’m up to date with my Children’s Encyclopedia (I’m also working my way through some works by Edgar Allen Poe).
As seemingly separate topics I’m also working my way through a more than meal-sized book called The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan which provides a history lesson on the world, and over on my newly acquired ebook reader I have some works by Philip K. Dick who I’ve been interested to read more of since reading, a few years ago, his book that later became the film Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
Seemingly separate that was until they all converged on one point.
The works of Shakespeare include The Merchant of Venice, which receives mention in The Silk Roads, since it paints a relevant picture of the time and place. In the play, Shylock, a wealthy Jew is in court after lending money to Antonio, calls out “A Daniel come to judgment! yea, a Daniel! O wise young judge, how I do honor thee!”
I glanced over this mention of Daniel when I first read it, but since then I have read Dick’s “I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon” and listened to an interview with him on Youtube that mentions the same, that he had this idea that certain moments in his life reflected those of Daniel in the Bible.
After reading the mention of The Merchant of Venice in The Silk Roads, and deciding to re-read that tale by Shakespeare, it was then that that “A Daniel come to judgment!” line jumped out at me. What did it mean? I had to check that it was indeed referring to Daniel in the Bible and a quick Google search confirmed it.
This phrase doubtless alludes to the Biblical character Daniel, who was attributed with having fine powers of judgement. In Daniel 5:14 (King James Version) we have:
I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.
The first use of the phrase as we now know it is from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, 1596…
When I checked my own copy of the Bible, kindly provided by the Jehovah’s Witnesses last year, I noticed a discrepancy:
I have heard concerning you that the spirit of gods is in you…
I come across quite a few such variations but often there will be an explanation at the bottom of the page, such as where they put an * next to every use of the word “soul”. I say they, and I notice it, because the Johavah’s Witnesses don’t believe in the existence of the soul (something I plan to write about at length in a future topic) and they produced this particular translation, the New World Translation which isn’t without its criticisms*. One feature I do like about my Bible though is how there is a central column running down each page providing lots references to other uses of various phrases, keeping me busy for a while as I follow some train of thought, and on this occasion we are first referred to an earlier sentence in Daniel (4:9) which uses “the spirit of the holy gods”, but then from there lead all the way back to Genesis (41:38). Here it has:
So Phar’aoh said to his servants: “Can another man be found like this one in whom there is the spirit of God?”
This is the tale of Joseph and here the Pharaoh is recognising that the spirit of God is working within Joseph (he had prophetic dreams). It is indeed similar to that of Daniel but these later writers are, for some reason, writing from the stance of gods, or spirits, rather than the Spirit as a whole. I see support for this from the fact that the story of Daniel isn’t included in the Qur-an, whereas Joseph’s is (Yusuf/Surah 12). Here Joseph is given the title of Prophet, whereas Daniel is not considered by all Muslims to have been prophet but “just” respect him as a “saintly man“.
I’m currently borrowing a copy of the Qur-an and it has an informative introduction to this chapter and points out that the story here takes a different perspective on that in the Bible, it also suggests that the Pharaoh was probably king of the Hyksos Dynasty, somewhere between the 19th and 17th century B.C. (I’m sure there’s a more accurate answer somewhere).
The story is similar but not identical with the Biblical story; but the atmosphere is wholly different. The Biblical story is like a folk-tale in which morality has no place. Its tendency is to exalt the clever and financially-minded Jew against the Egyptian [echoed perhaps in the dealing between the Jewish lender and Christian in Shakespeare’s tale] and to explain certain ethnic and tribal peculiarities in later Jewish history… The Quranic story, on the other hand, is less a narrative than a highly spiritual sermon or allegory explaining the seeming contradictions in life, the enduring nature of virtue in a world full of flux and change, and the marvellous working of Allah’s eternal purpose in His Plan as unfolded to us on the wide canvas of history…
“Allah” is of course “God”. I might take the time to read these two versions of the life of Joseph, and that of Daniel, since I’m certainly not au fait with it all and they all involve mention of dream interpretation which interests me. But here is what I am seeing thus far.
In the first instance the JWs have downplayed “the gods” to “gods”; by omitting the “the” they’re lessening any importance that may be placed on those “gods”, but then they link those lesser gods (whatever they may be, since there is only one God, right?) to “the God”. God (with a capital G) and gods are not the same, and here is my current belief/understanding, if I may try and put it into a few words:
The universe is God (or perhaps “he” is beyond it, having created it from outside, but it’s “of him” none the less), we are of the universe, therefore we are all one and the same, the universe and ourselves and all that we see, and by following any direction/guidance by that “God” we are working with the natural course of things, rather than trying to go against it; we are working with the energy that underlies everything.
“gods” on the other hand are other beings, such as we are beings, that inhabit the universe and have visited mankind throughout the ages and perhaps had a hand in our arrival on this planet (Erich von Daniken shares many examples in his books). There is an array of different kinds of gods, as there have been throughout the ages, as we see from the ones that appear in the Bible. Some can be “angelic”, and awash with goodness, while at the other end of the spectrum there can be those that are hell-bent on encouraging and feeding on the badness. There is also a general spirit, or energy, that can get described as “gods”, when we follow a particular path.
The ancient Egyptians, by way of example, had their various gods, in addition to their sun god Ra. It is very difficult to grasp how exactly those people really saw the world, but it seems to me, from the various interpretations of temple depictions, that they used the depiction of gods by way of describing the various energies and forces surrounding them; it’s all too easy to take all of their mythological tales, like we can do with tales in our religious texts, too literally when perhaps they’re not all meant to be, but a common theme is probably that of the battle between “good and bad” (two energies) which persists on through the tales we still invent to this day.
*Criticisms of the New World Translation: www.gotquestions.org/New-World-Translation.html and www.equip.org/article/getting-over-the-hurdles-of-the-new-world-translation