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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Friday, December 23, 2005

singlehanded construction

Heavyish rain pours down on this dark but warm day. Kimmie and I both felt recovered enough from our colds to take a walk out in it, and even lug our liquor purchases (3 large bottles of wine, 1 bottle vodka, 1 bottle vermouth, 6 bottles beer) home on our backs. Whew. We've changed out of our wet jeans and into lounging attire: sweatpants etc.

Kimmie has spent much of the day baking: mainly something to do with chocolate, and lots of it. The Kitchen Aid that we bought a couple of years ago has been whirring continually.

As for me, I nosed ahead with notes for chapter 20. My inquiries took me back to the character Hillel, now called Hillel the Great, and the different Jewish theologies of that period. Locating the beliefs of my characters is long, slow work. Hillel is now a legendary figure, often leaned on as one of the immediate precursors of rabbinic Judaism, which did not really exist as such until after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. He is now most famous for his so-called negative formulation of the Golden Rule: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary; go, study."

The last directive--"go, study"--was a key instruction of Hillel's; he believed that an ignorant man could not be truly devout. By the time of his death he was hailed as a second Ezra, the scribe famous for seeking new glue to hold the shattered nation of Israel together after the first destruction of its temple and its deportation to Babylonia: universal adherence to the Mosaic Law. Scribe was a job-title of the Hellenistic world generally: scribes were the bureaucrats in Eastern monarchies responsible for record-keeping, including the keeping and interpretation of laws. In the Jewish context, the scribe was a kind of sacred lawyer: a man learned in the Law and its interpretation. With the destruction of the first temple in 586 BC, the priests had lost their raison d'ĂȘtre and those proficient in the Law rose in prominence. When the temple was rebuilt in 517 BC the priests would recover their function in maintaining its cult, but the scribes would continue to grow in importance as expertise in the Law would become a full-time occupation in its own right. The priests and the scribes would form the main pools from which would arise the parties known respectively as the Sadducees and Pharisees.

Hillel was a Pharisee. But the name Pharisee also covered a wide range of attitudes and beliefs, all held (more or less) together by a common acceptance of what's known as the Oral Law, the spiritual equivalent of what we would call the common law: the law of precedent, as established by judgments already made on contentious issues. There was a vast tradition of such judgments, often competing or even contradictory judgments. Everything depended on the authority of those making the judgments. Hillel introduced a systematic methodology for reasoning from scripture in order to rationalize the procedure for arriving at new judgments, and increase the likelihood of consensus. His interpretive system was derived from the techniques of literary analysis already in use in the wider Hellenistic world.

I perused the material I've keyed on Hillel--he has his own document in the Characters folder. Hm, the last entry I made here was in March 2005.

When Kimmie and I walked home from the liquor store down on Esplanade (all uphill), we trudged up the lane between 4th and 5th streets. Off that lane, facing Lonsdale, is a three-story apartment building, coated in pink stucco. It has been under construction for at least the last eight years, and is still unoccupied. While I was still working at ICBC I would walk past it every day, and observe the slow progress. There was never more than a couple of guys working on it at any one time, and often only one guy. Our theory was that the lot owner had decided, for some reason, to build the whole thing single-handedly. Indeed, that's what it looks like. What must it be like for him? I think I know. You finally finish installing the balcony doors on the third floor, then look down at the piles of gravel and dirt you had dumped on the lot 17 months ago: "Ah yes--time to start the landscaping..."

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  • Cookies with lots of chocolate sounds good. :-)

    Happy holidays - whatever the Buddhists celebrate around solstice if they do.

    By Blogger Gabriele C., at December 25, 2005 1:55 PM  

  • Hi Gabriele. Many thanks, and same to you. I don't know about Buddhists in general, but this household has the Christmas throttle wide open. Kimmie has baked up a storm--with results that would even, I venture to guess, tempt the discerning German baking palate...

    By Blogger paulv, at December 25, 2005 3:05 PM  

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