Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Celsius 450

Hint for understanding post title

Yesterday I explored what book burning, AKA Libricide, has in common with murder. Today I'd like to ponder why the favorite method of execution seem to be burning.

Homicide can be effected through a myriad of methods and Halakha has codified 4 specific methods of capital punishment; stoning, burning, killing and strangling. Lest anyone think that I'm carrying the analogy too far, the infamous Talmud burning in Paris in 1242 A.C.E. was preceded by a trial in which charges were brought against the Talmud and burning was only ordered after the "defendant" was "found guilty". Ultimately, with or without actual trials and due process, all books and scrolls that fall victim to libricide have been found guilty of sedition or heresy in the court of public opinion or in the judgemental minds of the authorities that ordered their destruction. Involuntary book-slaughters are few and far between . Nearly all libricides are murder in the first degree, premeditated and with presence of malice, plenty of it. But I digress.

There have been a few notable exceptions to the rule of death by inflamation:

1. Arguably, Moshe Rabenus casting down of the original Lukhos was an act of libricide (actually a sort of therapeutic abortion) particularly as per Khaza'l there was no inscription left at all on the shattered shards of the lukhos rishonos and, if understood as an act of libricide the method of "killing" was most akin to stoning... i.e. being cast down from a high position resulting in deadly force on impact.

2. In 1258 A.C.E. when the Mongols invaded Baghdad they destroyed many libraries including that of "The House of Wisdom". It seems that their preferred method was "drowning" akin to the Sanhedrin administered capital punishment of strangulation, rather than burning. "It was said that the waters of the Tigris ran black for six months with ink from the enormous quantities of books flung into the river." (Wiki).

While not, strictly speaking, an act of Deicide the erasure of Parshas Sotah as part of the supernatural trial of the suspected adulteress also involved a book erasure in water rather than immolation in fire and is referred to Mekhiyas Sh'mo yisborakh= "the erasure/blotting out of His holy name" an expression usually associated with the Torah mandated treatment of the arch-enemy Amalekites.

3. According to the apocryphal work "The Book of Maccabees" it seems that the Greek oppressors first ripped seforim to pieces before immolating them. Was this only to facilitate the burning? or was the ripping the actual "libricide" and the burning merely a posthumous "cremation" so as not to accord the seforim the honor of in-ground burial? If it is the former the ripping seems to best correspond to the Sanhedrin administered capital punishment of killing= decapitation as it is the primary method of disintegration and sundering the seat of mans baser physical/animal element from the seat of his soul , the "head"/ mind.

4. The long and varied history of censorship can be viewed as a kind of libricide as well and has elements in common with decapitation (denuding the book of it's "brains" and direction) and halakhic death by burning. The halakhic mode of burning was not an auto da fe burning at the stake but an execution that left the body and many of the internal organs unsinged. Similarly in censorship when certain passages are blacked out or excised the "internal guts" are destroyed thus killing the whole organism which remains externally intact to the untrained eye. Censorship may also be akin to strangulation (where the vital life force is "squeezed" out of the organism).

The practical reason for burning over other methods of destruction/murder is that it is quick, easy, efficient and effortless. But there may be more to it than that: Like the "original crime" of the offending book that aroused fiery passions and spread ideas (either through circulation or through engendering an oral tradition) like wildfire there is a certain poetic justice, a quid pro quo, in fighting fire with fire. Book-burners attack the books that they deem to have cast excessive and thus destructive light with excessive and destructive heat.

Finally there may be a connection between Biblioclasm and the burning of consecrated items defiled through impurity. When Qorbonos or Terumah become tamai= ritually impure we dispose of them through burning. The human mind is a vessel /instrument for containing the highest Qedusha... the holiness of Torah. When it becomes adulterated with anti-existential thoughts it is akin to qodshim that have "gone bad" and the prescribed disposal method is burning. IIRC one of the meforshim explain that this is the reason for the שריפת בת כהן= the execution by burning of the adulteress bas kohen. It's not that her crime deserves a different form of capital punishment but that her desecrated Qedusha requires a different form of disposal/destruction.
Qedusha-Havdala...have you had YOURS today??? Hmmm???

12 comments:

Nosson Gestetner said...

Standard Korbonos are burned, and injured Korbonos are sold to fortify the hekdesh fund's coffers, if I am not mistaken.

Very interesting article. A bit morbid mind you :)

The Bray of Fundie said...

I'm talking about the fleshof eaten Qorbonos (Shlomim, Kahtos, Todah , Asaham) that became tamei and terumah (qodsheo g'vulin) that become tamei. Burning as a disposal method NOT as a means of worship.

The Bray of Fundie said...

A bit morbid mind you :)
Get used to it. This is Libricide-Palooza. Cide=murder, ususlly IS a morbid topic. Speaking of which check out my new masthead epigram.

Nosson Gestetner said...

HAHA :D

Nosson Gestetner said...

The imagery you've used lately has been very colourful, I imagine that's what prompted the "morbid" comment.

The Bray of Fundie said...

Well Ba'al Geshmak Torah...seems like it's just you and me against the world here in the 'ol Red-Tent. Please feel free to peruse and amplify upon the balance of todays offerings.

Anonymous said...

We didn't burn people. The Zedukim did. We poured molten lead down their throats. Think Nadav v'avihu

Midwest

The Bray of Fundie said...

When/Where did I say otherwise?

The Bray of Fundie said...

to reitertae from the post:

The halakhic mode of burning was not an auto da fe burning at the stake but an execution that left the body and many of the internal organs unsinged.

Nosson Gestetner said...

^ = that doesn't equate to "We didn't burn people" in simple English. LOL

Anonymous said...

Sorry my mistake.
I didn't notice. The problem is the parallels you make, to me, invoke images of fire.

Midwest

JS said...

To my mind burning of books is the preferred method of their destruction because it is easy and because it is therefore particularly offensive to their authors. The authors spent so many countless hours of hard work to produce the work and in seconds it is engulfed in flames.

I think there is also, when books are deemed heretical, an idea of purification by flame.