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Give an answer, Baal! - Impressions and Expressions of Ijon
February 28th, 2002
01:10 pm

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Give an answer, Baal!
Friends, I have heard perfection, and it is in the dialogue between Elijah and the prophets of Baal in Felix Mendelssohn's Elijah. I was listening to an English version, performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Robert Shaw.

Based on the biblical story of Elijah's contest with 450 prophets of Baal, told in 1 Kings 18, this part of the oratory simply shines with dramatic vigor and brilliant composition.

The choir represents the prophets of Baal, and they plead to their god to set alight the fire under the bullock they are offering him, for this is the nature of the contest. After a powerful choral part in which they exhort their god in admiration and confidence to perform the miracle of fire, and the ensuing silence, Elijah ridicules them:
And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.
The prophets of Baal resort to self-mutilation "after their manner", with "knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them", in order to make their god heed their call. A brief, painful, almost desperate choral passage. And silence. More mocking by Elijah. The prophets of Baal, bleeding, desperate, and frightened, appeal to their god one last time. A powerful choral passage, with the furious, frustrated demand give an answer, Baal! It ends with unaccompanied tenors singing "give an aaaaanswer..." several times, weaker every time. Silence.

Elijah calls upon his god, and fire is produced, and the assembled laymen who came to watch the spectacle are now assures of the falsehood of the cult of Baal, and of the truth of the cult of Jehovah. Elijah proceeds to order the crowd to seize the prophets of Baal, "let not one of them escape", and he takes them down to a brook and slays them. Four hundred and fifty men.

And all this, O my brothers, I have heard this morning in my car stereo, on my way to work, and it was perfection.

Current Mood: elated
Current Music: Thelonious Monk - Jackie-ing

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From:gaal
Date:February 28th, 2002 04:14 am (UTC)
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And all this, O my brothers, I have heard this morning in my car stereo, on my way to work, and it was perfection.

You have to throw in some more Russian if you want to make it Clockwork.
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From:ijon
Date:February 28th, 2002 05:30 am (UTC)
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I certainly didn't want to make it Clockwork. It was just a nod to Burgess when I realized I was raving about music that accompanied a text depicting a scene that culminates in the murder of 450 men.
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From:novartza
Date:March 7th, 2002 06:38 pm (UTC)
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They are sinners, what do you care? They preached for worship of baal and human sacrifices. Their death saved the lives of many innocent people.
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From:ijon
Date:March 10th, 2002 09:18 am (UTC)

Pride and Prejudice

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I don't know what moral system you use when judging the (mythical, for all we know) prophets of Baal to be sinners. In what way are they sinners? In that they preached for the worship of Baal? That's okay by me. Worshiping the "wrong" deity is no crime nor vice in my book.

You further claim that they preached for human sacrifice. Human sacrifice is not okay in my book. I don't see where it says that they practiced or preached human sacrifice. Can you quote chapter and verse in the bible (our source for this debate about legendary figures) explicitly linking them with human sacrifice? What I do see is a famous judge of the Israelites called Jephthah, who sacrificed his own daughter, i.e. committed human sacrifice, after vowing to sacrifice "the first to come out of his house" upon his triumphant return. The daughter, remarkably, urges him to make good on his vow, and only asks for two months to bemoan her youth and her virginity before her cruel death is carried out. This is told in the book of Judges, chapter 11.

What the prophets of Baal did do, according to the bible, is practice self-mutilation, as mentioned in my original entry. That's okay (if unwise), in my book. People have dominion over their own bodies, and the Baalites' self-mutilation is no different from Christian self-flagellation. Actually, I don't see a crucial difference between self-mutilation and self-denial such as fasting. Both are religious practices that I tolerate, because they do not violate human rights.

So, I can't see how you can assert that the murder of 450 men over a religious difference necessarily saved the lives of many people, and how those people might have been more innocent than these prophets of Baal.
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From:novartza
Date:March 12th, 2002 11:01 pm (UTC)

Re: Pride and Prejudice

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The idol-worshippers in Canaan used to sacrifice their children to Molech. See Leviticus 18:21 in conjunction with Lev. 18:24. Also II Kings 3:27.

As for Jephte's sacrificing his daughter, that was in direct conflict with the Torah's stand against human sacrifices. He was punished for it. See Judges 12:6in conjunction with Rashi's commentary to Judges 11:39.
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From:ijon
Date:March 17th, 2002 08:16 am (UTC)

Re: Pride and Prejudice

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There has certainly been Molech worship in Canaan, but your citations do not mention the prophets of Baal, nor do they pertain to the time of Elijah and Ahab. The Kings verse describes a Moabite human sacrifice, and the Leviticus verses ascribe to the gentiles the vices of incest of Molech worship, expressing the usual Jewish contempt and superiority toward gentiles.

So what proof have you, even biblical proof, of the Baalites' having practiced human sacrifice?

As for Jephthah, I don't see the relevance of Judges 12:6 (Jephthah's men slaughtering Ephraimites, using phonetics to recognize them). I don't have easy access to Rashi's commentary; do quote him, if you can.

Anyhow, my point was not that the Torah condones human sacrifice, but that you were a little too quick to ascribe human sacrifice to the Baalites, and a little myopic about an explicit mention of human sacrifice in Jephthah's case.
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