Fist Of History

June, 2015Archive for

Alternative Versions of Christianity – Gnostics and More

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Synaxis_of_the_Twelve_Apostles_by_Constantinople_master_(early_14th_c.,_Pushkin_museum)

One of the fun things you learn when reading history is about unusual side paths and concepts that didn’t quite take off.  As it turns out there were several different versions of early Christian thought that battled for dominance in the growing faithful from the death of Christ till the early 700s or so.  Let’s begin with the winner:

Apostolic Christianity

  • Grounded in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Luke, John, Paul)
  • Eventually support the idea that the divine is equally made up of three parts – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
  • Christ was the divine manifest on Earth, who died for humanities sins on the cross, rose after three days, and ascended to Heaven after liberating the wrong condemned souls in Hell
  • Peter was the inheritor of the Church and the Papacy represented the ultimate authority on Earth for Christians.  (Note this tenant did not hold – see Orthodox/Catholic split and later Protestant movements)

Valentinus

Alternate Version #1 – Valentinianism

  • Created by leading early Christian theologian named Valentinus
  • Holds the same core tenant about the validity of the four primary gospels outlined above
  • Believe in traditional sacraments but also believe that behind the public rituals of the Christian faith were secret teachings Christ had shared with an elite and those teachings were passed on to a new elite
  • Potentially practiced a second baptism to welcome those with secret elite knowledge to the inner Christian faith

Alternative Version #2 – Basilidianism

  • Created by a Christian philosopher named Basilides
  • Believed Christ was entirely divine and could not die on the cross and instead switched places with Simon of Cyrene
  • Some accounts state faith believed Christ laughed at Simon of Cyrene’s death
  • Held a complex cosmology that believed in 365 separate heavenly paradises, one for each day of the year
  • Believed in two divine beings – Abrasas – the pious and divine deity that sent down Christ and Yahweh, an evil Jewish deity
  • Held that only a select few would be allowed to enter the divine paradises

The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_by_Bosch_High_Resolution

Alternative Version #3 – Carpocratianism

  • Believed that to attain salvation a soul must pass through every condition and experience of life
  • Supported sin and sexual indulgence on a grand scale
  • Was recorded historically as believers who “have intercourse where they will and with who they will”

Lion-faced_deityAlternate Version #4 – Sethiansim

  • Opposed to most aspects of Apostolic Christianity
  • Believed the Hebrew divinity, Yahweh, was evil
  • Honored Adam and Eve as good for eating the Fruit of Forbidden Knowledge
  • Honored the Serpent in the Garden of Eden for opposing the above evil deity
  • Believed the Eucharist was an abomination
  • Believed the Crucifixion was an abomination and on par with child sacrifice

Source:  Finding Jesus, David Gibson and Michael McKinley, chapter “The Gospel of Judas”

 

 

 

Irish Slaves – Bad History on Steroids [OPINION]

Friday, June 19th, 2015

white-slaves

One of the things I usually enjoy with this blog is smashing down a misuse of history, be it by politicians looking to score a soundbite or pundits trying to shroud their argument with the mantle of established precedent.  Unfortunately that job also requires diving into the unpleasant and racist elements of the misuse of history on occasion, and this is one of those unpleasant times:  the currently rising topic of “Irish Slavery” in the North American and Caribbean colonies from the 15th to (possibly) 19th centuries.

Let’s start from the top – I’m not an expert in Irish history, English history, Cromwell, or North American colonial history – I’m a well read amateur on these periods.  But, and I cannot overstate this, even for a well-read amateur like myself the idea of “Irish Slavery” is bullshit.  Absolute bullshit and if you come across this toxic meme I suggest you dismiss it from your mind immediately.

Cromwell

At its core this myth argues that Irish citizens were mass deported from Ireland starting in 1625 through the end of the English Civil War and beyond, roughly 1653, with Cromwell sending hundreds of thousands of Irish individuals to the New World as “slaves.”  An excellent article says it far better than I do, this myth rests upon conflating indentured servitude, prisoner labor, and forced labor with “chattel slavery.”  (Source here.)  From just a cursory review of basic articles on the English Civil War, Cromwell and the Irish, and Irish history I cannot find even the most basic evidence to back up the idea there was a mass cross-Atlantic trade in white Irish individuals to feed a growing labor demand in the colonies of North America and the Caribbean.

The articles I’ve found pushing this myth, of which several samples are included below in the sources, uniformly don’t list any academic or even non-academic sources.  They twist information, and they also stretch the limits of credible argument.  For example I did find mention in several sources in Google Docs that after the end of the English Civil War, Irish individuals who had supported the crown were forced from the land (mass deportations) and shoved by Cromwell onto a sort-of Irish preserve.  Key point though – that preserve was in Ireland.  Some Irish supporters of the Royalist cause were deported to the New World as forced labor, specifically to the Caribbean colonies held by England, but that number ranged from 6,000 to 30,000 at the most.

I’ve also found no links to bills of sale, dockets showing Irish chattel slaves for sale, nor special laws or controls limiting the Irish in the same way that African chattel slaves were limited.  In fact actual historical research shows that the Irish who were brought over as indentured servants often were recruited into colonial militias to protect the colonial structure of law and order.

Slaves_ruvuma

These myths rest on an argument that indentured servitude and chattel slavery were the same thing – they simply were not.  The core difference was chattel slavery was forever, a bondage upon the slave and their descendents.  Irish indentured servants were certainly cheated, worked hard, treated poorly, and labored in some cases in terrible situations, but legally, and practically, they were bond by a contract they entered into in the overwhelming majority of cases.  African chattel slaves were property, legally, from acquisition to death.  An African chattel slave in North America (and South America as well) was property, like a horse.

In fact to understand the position of a chattel slave in North America for most of history, simply replace the word “slave” with “horse” and you’ve got the legal fine points down nicely.  Can you kill a horse that defies you?  If it is yours, yes.  People might think you are cruel or overly violent, you might face social stigma, but you can do it.  Others may support you as the horse deserved it, was unproductive, or needed to be culled.  You can sell your horse if you wish, for whatever price you can command from the buyer.  You can beat your horse if it is unproductive.  Local laws might protect the horse, or not, but such protection is a voluntary agreement between horse owners.  The horse has no say in the matter.

All of that links to chattel slaves in the period quite neatly.  In fact, I believe I am on safe ground saying the only absolute legally allowed thing you could do to your horse, that you could not do to your slave, is you can eat the horse.  I feel 95% certain a slave owner having a dinner on the meat of a slaughtered slave would be nailed on cannibalism laws, if such were on the books.

KKK_Wants

This myth at its core is an attempt to strip African-Americans of their unique position in the history of the United States, the Caribbean, and South America – that of labor forcibly taken from their homes to an alien culture and made to work in perpetual bondage.  Chattel slavery is far too complex a topic here but let me say this – when I read articles about this topic they all seem to rest on the same underlying foundation – “See, white Irish people suffered like African slaves, it is history, and you don’t see the Irish whining about it.”

No, white Irish workers in the colonies did not suffer like African chattel slaves, and at its core, rests one simple difference.  For an Irish indentured servant, at some point, their contract legally ended.  For an African chattel slave, there was no contract, they were just property till their owner either freed them, worked them till their death, or they managed to escape.

Sources:  Blog post on Irish Slavery, another blog post on Irish Slavery, article on the myth of Irish Slavery

Knights of the Golden Circle

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Knights_Golden_Circle

The Knights of the Golden Circle was an organization that existed in the United States from the 1850s through the 1860s which espoused the idea of a radical expansion, and realignment, of the United States into an extremely “pro-slavery” nation.  Their major goal was to promote the idea of the seizure, as part of Manifest Destiny, of additional territory for the United States in Cuba, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, with the ultimate goal being that each of these new territories be added to the United States as “slave states” – those allowing slavery.  This planned goal also aimed at potentially creating a new super-Confederacy of states/republics, if necessary, encompassing the Southern states in the United States and the other new territories, with a capital centered in Havana, Cuba.

Golden_Circle_(Proposed_Country)

Now this new nation, (shown above in green), would have represented a major investment of military and cultural power by the United States to be achieved and probably was beyond the immediate capacity of the nation in the 1850s.  However the idea had many adherents in the American South and southern portions of middle states, mainly due to the economic possibilities it presented and concerns about the growing power of abolitionism as a political force in the United States.  The Knights of the Golden Circle were strongly pro-Southern as regional tensions increased in the United States and the organization supported the seceding states in 1861.  Many Democrats in the northern United States during the Civil War expressed support for some ideas purported by the Knights of the Golden Circle and members of the organization took part in some early military actions by the growing Confederate forces.

Knights_of_the_Golden_Circle_History_of_Seccession_book,_1862

The organization had less real impact during the American Civil War but it was a lightening rod for Northern concerns about Southern sympathizers acting as spies and saboteurs during the Civil War.  Members of the Knights of the Golden Circle were regularly targeted for arrest by United States law enforcement and its key leaders were expelled from northern territory when caught.  The image of the Knights of the Golden Circle in the United States as traitors was not helped by activities like the attempting to outfit a secret privateer boat in California to attack Pacific shipping by the United States.  The organization did not survive the defeat of the southern states in the American Civil War and its membership most likely dissolved after the war.

national-treasure

I say “most likely” because the Knights of the Golden Circle have become one of the darlings of conspiracy theorists who posit the group survived the end of the American Civil War and became a key player in efforts to prepare for a second American Civil War.  Such theories are grounded mostly in speculation than anything solid, but it does give the organization a lasting minor place even in modern United States history.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the Golden Circle and the Knights of the Golden Circle