Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Lamentation

The narrator of Poul Anderson's "The House of Sorrows" (All One Universe, New York, 1997) spends the entire period of the story in a city that, he learns on the last page, used to be called Jerusalem. In the city, the deepest crypt of a library holds the oldest fragments, including a faded papyrus sheet torn from a scroll. The sheet is a fragment of an ancient lament in a dead language whose letters slightly resemble Edomite or Arabian.

A previous librarian made a partial translation by comparison with known languages. The present librarian, having studied the text, is able to decipher parts of it.

It begins:

"Jerusalem hath grievously sinned..." (p. 98)

- and ends:

"But thou hast utterly rejected us -" (ibid.)

As a matter of fact, my Revised Standard Version gives Lamentations 5.22 as:

"Or hast thou utterly rejected us? Art thou exceedingly angry with us?"

- and the Good News Bible gives:

"Or have you rejected us forever? Is there no limit to your anger?"

But the King James ends Lamentations with a statement, not a question. The Lord, who is said to remain forever, is also said to "...forsake us forever..." (ibid.)

Imagine that you are a Hebrew prophet and that that is your last revelation: God is eternal but has ended the Covenant. You are on your own. What should you do? Serve other gods? Live as a free man without gods? Consider how much of the Law applies to human beings without reference to God? It is up to you.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Paul!

    Yes, I remember the moving lamentation which Poul Anderson gave near the end of "The House of Sorrows." Your comments inspired me to look up how the Catholic Douai-Reims-Challoner version rendered the original text of Lamentations 5.22: "But thou hast utterly rejected us, thou art exceedingly angry against us." Flat, blunt STATEMENTS, not questions.

    Lamentations 5.19-20 says: "But thou, O Lord, shalt remain forever, thy throne from generatiom to generation. Why wilt thou forget us forever? Why wilt thou forsake us for a long time?"

    So, yes, Anderson did use the Book of Lamentations to help write "The House of Sorrows."

    And I don't see any Jewish prophet who KNOWS only the One God exists serving false gods which do not and cannot exist. And if you KNOW God exists it would be impossible to live as a "free" man living as tho God is not real. In such an intolerable situation the only thing such a person could would be to remain faithful to his God even if he was the very last one to do so. And the natural law are the norms of ethics which can be discovered by logic and reason, and thus binding on all mankind.

    Yes, "The House of Sorrows" is a very disturbing story, with its premise based on what kind of world we would see if God had rejected the Jews. In "Delenda est" we see Judaism simply disappearing with no implication of divine anger and punishment.

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