Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Hallelujah!

Today we move from praising the resurrection of Our Lord, to consideration of another moment of praise, that when the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel's Messiah is struck up, usually at Christmastime. Kudos to Paul at Beside the Point for finding this intriguing piece of musical history.

In an article entitled "Unsettling History of That Joyous ‘Hallelujah’" the NY Times details a story of the apparent anti-Semitic roots of the "The Messiah". I found the piece quite thought-provoking, not just for the apparent Christian-Jewish theological debate, but also for the role of the rise of deism in the genesis of the work.

As a traditionalist Christian, Jennens was deeply troubled by the spread of deism, the notion that God had simply created the cosmos and let it run its course without divine intervention. Christianity then as now rested on the belief that God broke into history by taking human form in Jesus. For Jennens and others, deism represented a serious menace.

Deists argued that Jesus was neither the son of God nor the Messiah. Since Christian writers had habitually considered Jews the most grievous enemies of their religion, they came to suppose that deists obtained anti-Christian ammunition from rabbinical scholars. The Anglican bishop Richard Kidder, for example, claimed in his huge 1690s treatise on Jesus as the Messiah that “the deists among us, who would run down our revealed religion, are but underworkmen to the Jews.”

Kidder’s title says it all: “A Demonstration of the Messias, In Which the Truth of the Christian Religion Is Proved, Against All the Enemies Thereof; but Especially Against the Jews.” Jennens owned an edition from 1726, and he appears to have studied it carefully. Kidder’s work reads like a blueprint for “Messiah.”


So, the Christian fundamentalists of the day linked the deist movement to Jewish influence. This is a topic that would be fascinating to follow-up. The influence of deism over the US founding fathers is undeniable, and it is somewhat refreshing to realize how clearly strong Christians of the day saw this threat. And it is really compelling to ponder how those who sang "The Messiah" so many years ago would have assigned much more specific and powerful meaning to the words we today just "sing along with."

What better means to comfort disquieted Christians against the faith-busting wiles of deists and Jews than to draw on the feelings and emotions of art over and above the reasons and revelations of argument?

“Messiah” does exactly this, culminating in the “Hallelujah” chorus. At Scene 6 in Part 2 the oratorio features passages from Psalm 2 of the Old Testament set as a series of antagonistic movements that precede excerpts from the New Testament’s Book of Revelation set as the triumphant “Hallelujah” chorus: type and antitype, prophecy and fulfillment.


Another intriguing angle on the story weaves in the role of John Newton of Amazing Grace fame, and his 1786 book “Messiah: Fifty Sermons on the Celebrated Oratorio of Handel”. Fifty sermons?! That's a lot of material...

At the root of the issue, really, is the significance of the central difference between Christians and Jews...was Jesus the Messiah, or not?

These issues were a matter of life and death, says Jennens’s key guide, Kidder’s tome: “If we be wrong in dispute with the Jews, we err fundamentally, and must never hope for salvation. So that either we or the Jews must be in a state of damnation. Of such great importance are those matters in dispute between us and them.”

Quite sobering to see how fundamental to salvation the issue was considered then, and how that difference is downplayed now in these days of political alliance. What was once considered fundamental Christianity is now attacked as anti-Semitism (or anti-Islam, or anti-Buddism, etc.) Interesting that they didn't worry about that as much back then, and how enthusiastically they celebrated the risen Messiah in musical flourishes of victory...celebrations that the NY Times today clearly sees as misguided.

10 comments:

  1. Ah New York Times; Mr. Philo-Semite! They probably all wear Yarmalukes to work to show their great respect for the Jewish people.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Seeing as no one else remembers Messiah in that way it is reasonable to assume that no one then thought of it that way in which case Handel was incompetant or Times is in danger of being a boy calling wolf.
    And I dare say the most serious Jews would be less offended by dissaggrement then the Times seems to be.

    Sir Jason

    ReplyDelete
  3. Seeing as no one else remembers Messiah in that way it is reasonable to assume that no one then thought of it that way

    You don't really mean that, Sir Ja? You're not trying to take the position that current attitudes and interpretations of events 300 years ago are correlated to their actual meaning at the time, are you?

    I always assume the opposite, that moderns are always misinterpreting history in light that most favors what they currently want to believe...

    Sir C

    ReplyDelete
  4. You don't really mean that, Sir Ja? You're not trying to take the position that current attitudes and interpretations of events 300 years ago are correlated to their actual meaning at the time, are you?
    _______________________________
    Actually I am taking the position that neither our fathers nor our fathers fathers ad infiniteum took it that way. No one learned it that way in music class and as far as I know this interpretation was just discovered by NY Times. And NY Times' expertise in Classical Music is not ascertained and their expertise in areas in which I at least claim expertise is probabaly dubious like many papers.
    To take a comparison, it was fairly well known for a long time that Wagner was an anti-semite. If Handel was such one would expect similar indications.

    Sir Jason

    ReplyDelete
  5. Jew defends evangelical Christians


    http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Evangelical Christians believe that it is necessary for a person to believe in the Christian savior in order to be saved.

    According to every liberal I know -- Christian, Jew, or other -- Jews are supposed to find this theology offensive and frightening. According to liberals, the evangelicals' doctrine that no non-Christians can be saved is so awful that all other evangelical views must be held suspect -- even their unique support for Jews and Israel.

    I would therefore like to announce, as a practicing, believing Jew, that I am in no way offended, let alone frightened, by evangelical Christians who believe that it is necessary to have faith in Jesus in order to be saved.

    Why should Jews not be offended by this evangelical Christian belief?

    First, since all non-Christians are unsaved, this doctrine is in no way anti-Jewish.

    It is pro-salvation, not anti-anybody. The evangelical view of who is not saved is applicable, by definition, to all non-Christians. There is, therefore, no reason whatsoever for a Jew to be personally offended. It is no more applicable to Jews than to Hindus. When most evangelicals single out Jews, it is only to support them and Israel, and to reaffirm Jewish chosenness. It takes paranoia, ignorance and ingratitude for a Jew to join the anti-evangelical critics.

    Second, exclusive views of salvation are hardly unique to evangelical Christians. Liberals, of all people, should honor such exclusive views. Don't most liberals think that liberalism is the only way to save America (and don't most conservatives think that of conservatism)? If Christians are intolerant and offensive because they believe they have the only way to salvation in the next life, why aren't liberals intolerant and offensive because they believe they have the only way to salvation in this life? And if Christians must declare that all religions are equally valid paths to salvation, shouldn't liberals have to declare that all political and social doctrines are equally valid paths to America's salvation?

    Third, all those who condemn evangelicals for their belief in the necessity of affirming Christ for salvation are doing exactly what they accuse these Christians of doing -- judging and condemning people solely for their beliefs. Here is the liberals' rule: Christians may not judge others by their religious beliefs, but liberals may judge Christians by their religious beliefs.

    Fourth, one of Judaism's core teachings is that G-d judges all people by their behavior rather than by their faith alone, and that we are to judge people in the same way. I apply this teaching to evangelicals. I judge them not by their theology but by their behavior. I find that behavior often exemplary, and I regard them as America's best hope to stem the country's cultural and moral decline.

    Fifth, insofar as offensiveness and tolerance are concerned, who do you think has it tougher -- a Jew living and working among evangelical Christians or a conservative living and working among strongly committed liberals? As one who is in the former situation, I can tell you that I receive only respect and tolerance. On the other hand, ask conservatives, not to mention evangelical Christians, in Hollywood how they feel. Most keep their views to themselves, so fearful are they of repercussions from the liberal majority.

    Let's also compare the evangelicals to the "open" and "tolerant" Protestant Christian denominations as represented by the National Council of Churches. We find moral confusion, anti-Americanism and support for those who wish another Jewish genocide. True, just about everyone in the NCC believes that it is not necessary for anyone to affirm faith in Christ to be saved and that I as a Jew can therefore attain salvation. But so what? Their doctrines that pertain to me, here and now, on earth, not in the hereafter, are the doctrines that frighten me.

    Evangelical Christians, almost alone, affirm that America has a divine mission, that this country has better values than Europe, that the United Nations is a moral wasteland, that G-d's law is higher than international laws devised in New York or The Hague, that secularism is wonderful for government but fatal for society, that Israel must be protected against those who wish to exterminate it, that the Jews have a divinely chosen role in history, and that America must remain a Judeo-Christian country. .

    If the only way a Christian can hold these precious beliefs is to maintain that faith in Jesus is the only way to salvation, here is one Jew who says: More power to you. Keep your faith strong. .

    And thanks.

    -----------------------------------
    "Evangelical Christians believe that it is necessary for a person to believe in the Christian savior in order to be saved.

    According to every liberal I know -- Christian, Jew, or other -- Jews are supposed to find this theology offensive and frightening. According to liberals, the evangelicals' doctrine that no non-Christians can be saved is so awful that all other evangelical views must be held suspect -- even their unique support for Jews and Israel.

    I would therefore like to announce, as a practicing, believing Jew, that I am in no way offended, let alone frightened, by evangelical Christians who believe that it is necessary to have faith in Jesus in order to be saved.

    Why should Jews not be offended by this evangelical Christian belief?

    First, since all non-Christians are unsaved, this doctrine is in no way anti-Jewish.

    It is pro-salvation, not anti-anybody. The evangelical view of who is not saved is applicable, by definition, to all non-Christians. There is, therefore, no reason whatsoever for a Jew to be personally offended. It is no more applicable to Jews than to Hindus. When most evangelicals single out Jews, it is only to support them and Israel, and to reaffirm Jewish chosenness. It takes paranoia, ignorance and ingratitude for a Jew to join the anti-evangelical critics.

    Second, exclusive views of salvation are hardly unique to evangelical Christians."


    That is a reasonable answer to the accusation that disaggreement is anti-semiteism.
    Another one would be simply to use reductio ad absurdum. NY Times presumably wrote articles criticizeing Israel therefore NY Times is anti-semitic(why is political permited but not theological).
    Jews argue with each other all the time therefore Jews are anti-semitic.
    Moses in Exodus 32:30 said that the People of Israel had committed a great sin. Therefore Moses was anti-semitic.
    Several of the prophets condemned Israel, therefore God must be anti-semitic.
    When there are more then enough real anti-semites around, saying such things dilutes the meaning of the charge.
    It also uses the method of searching out convoluted and implausible paths to "prove" the argument they are making and thus follows the method of many real anti-semites.

    Sir Jason

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks for your excellent point, Sir Jason...it was precisely the one I was going to make.

    I don't see that Handel would have to be seen as anti-semitic to write The Messiah. Even the tough verses quoted in the Times article are merely quotes from Scripture, that prophesy the coming of the Christ and His Victory. If one wishes to view that as anti-semitic, one is either anti-semitic (takes one to know one) or anti-Christian, wishing to defame Christianity.

    The article you offered is so great, I feel I should make it its own posting.

    Thanks

    Sir C

    ReplyDelete
  7. Can't find the article, Sir Ja, can you give me the whole url?

    ReplyDelete
  8. "Can't find the article, Sir Ja, can you give me the whole url?"



    http://jewishworldreview.com/1002/prager102402.asp

    Sir Jason

    ReplyDelete
  9. "Anti-semitism" in modern usage means primarily "animosity toward Jews especially when such borders on the paranoid". However in it's original sense it meant a distinct ideological phenomenon.
    During the Middle Ages there was religious and cultural rivalry and the Jews who were weaker got the worst of it-at a time when cruelty was taken for granted. However Jews maintained some distinct rights though regarded as an inferior class: Medieval Law is a fascinating mishmash of priveleges and obligations given to this special interest or the other. During the eighteenth century it was widely felt that the amalgamation of such things was "untidy". Unfortunatly it was underestimated how much protection it offered to people's freedom.
    After the Napoleanic Wars nationalism was keyed to a very high pitch-almost to the point of idolatry. There was natural suspicion of people who might have more loyalty to people living in a rival state. This was combined with Social Darwinism to produce "Anti-semitism" a rather curious racialist theory to justify animosity toward Jews. Under that definition it does not exist in Western states anymore except among fringe groups. However hatred of Jews certainly remains to a greater or less degree in various places and that is the modern definition of "anti-semitism."



    Sir Jason

    ReplyDelete
  10. Assault on Christendom

    By Michael Linton
    Friday, April 13, 2007, 10:01 AM

    Wow. We didn’t know. The “Hallelujah Chorus” is a paean celebrating Titus’ sack of Jerusalem and the Christian’s God’s bloody vengeance upon the Jews. That was the New York Times’ Easter Sunday gift to its readers, courtesy of Swarthmore professor Michael Marissen.

    Marissen is making a career of arguing for the extra-musical purposes of eighteenth-century works. In his dissertation (published as The Social and Religious Designs of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos), he argues that Bach, in his concertos, encrypts Lutheran messages of the eventual reversal of political subservience in the afterlife (we may be prince or peasant here, but in heaven we’re all equal). Although controversial (one reviewer called his readings stimulating but irritating; I simply think they’re fevered), Marissen’s analysis has found enthusiasts among the postmodern types, and he has gone on to write about anti-Judaism in the St. John Passion (he acquits Bach of the charge) as well as to edit several volumes on Bach. The Times apparently tapped Marissen for the Easter essay because of his imminent work on Handel’s Messiah and “Christian triumphalism.”

    Undoubtedly Marissen will expand his argument about the “Hallelujah Chorus” in his new book, but in the newspaper version it goes something like this: Charles Jennens, who cobbled together the oratorio’s libretto, intended the work as an anti-deist and anti-Jewish polemic. In the oratorio’s second section, Jennens substituted “nations” for “heathens” in Psalm 2:1, so as to include the Jews among those who “imagine a vain thing” by taking counsel “against the Lord and his anointed.” Thus the arrival of the “Hallelujah Chorus” that closes the section is, in fact, an “over the top” celebration of God’s judgment on the Jews—Handel’s addition of martial trumpets and drums underscoring the militaristic vision of divine pillage.

    Marissen argues that here Jennens follows a tradition going back to Richard Kidder (d. 1703), the bishop of Bath and Wells, and continued by sermons John Newton published on “the Celebrated Oratorio of Handel” in 1786. The relation between these texts and the destruction of Jerusalem was so traditional in Handel’s time that it was “surely how listeners would have understood the combination of these texts in eighteenth-century Britain.”

    Surely? Not even a scholarly circumspect “arguably”? Does Marissen really expect us to believe that what immediately came to the minds of nearly everyone who heard the “Hallelujah Chorus” under Handel’s direction was the Lord’s vengeful destruction of Jerusalem?

    Surely not. What did come to mind, and what Handel wanted to come to mind, was the immensely popular music he wrote for the coronation of George II in 1727 (repeated at the coronation at every British monarch since). “Zadok the Priest,” in its D major key, diatonic construction, choral outbursts, and orchestration is the model for the “Hallelujah Chorus,” written fifteen years later. What Handel’s listeners heard in the Messiah chorus wasn’t a conquest anthem but music celebrating the coronation of Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, music directly reminiscent of the music they already knew celebrating the coronation of George, “by the Grace of God, King of Great Britain, France, Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc.”

    Ah, that “Defender of the Faith” business. The Protestant Faith, of course. It’s hardly news that the English saw themselves as Israel’s heirs. They were a new chosen people whose election had been confirmed by the “holy wind” that sank the Spanish Armada and the much more recent defeat of the Catholic-backed Scots at the 1746 Battle of Culloden (an event which Handel celebrated with his oratorio Judas Maccabaeus). English Protestants were the new Israelites (look at all those “Salems” they founded in North America).

    They were Christians who believed that the Old Testament could only be understood properly when read through the saving work of Christ—and Christians who believed that those who didn’t read the Old Testament that way were endangering their immortal souls with hellfire. (It’s not particularly insightful to notice that this caused tension among the church, the synagogue, and the chattering philosophers.)

    Marissen’s is a very odd article. The most important aspect of the “Hallelujah Chorus” that one might think a scholar would want modern listeners to know about to help them understand the piece is ignored while a controversial interpretation of pretty-well-known truisms is headlined. What gives?

    This Lent we have seen the Discovery Channel airing a documentary about the “Lost Tomb of Jesus,” a New York confectioner making a life-sized Jesus out of chocolate, Newsweek boldly asking “Is God Real?,” and the New York Times discussing both theism as the outgrowth of brain architecture (subscription required) and the myth of the Exodus. The History Channel graced Easter Sunday night with “Banned from the Bible,” two hours about all that nifty stuff that was “deemed unfit to grace the pages of the sacred scriptures for Jews and Christians . . . heresy or hidden truth?”

    The many-branched assault on the fabric of Christendom, which appears to go into overdrive around Christmas and Easter, has hardly passed unnoted in First Things. Marissen’s piece on the “Hallelujah Chorus” is simply the New York Times’ Easter-morning sortie. And, as in the case of other raids, the subtext of Marissen’s piece, within the context of the Times’ other writings, is that traditional Christianity is malicious and hateful. Handel, his librettists, and their ilk espouse a “troubling” theology with an “unseemly” delight in violence directed toward Jews. The attitude of moderns to them and their work should be a degree of respect for their aesthetic achievement mingled with profound moral shame. Unschooled to see the holes in Marissen’s research and the fatuousness of his writing, a good number of Christians found, I expect, their Easter dinners soured by his essay.

    But there is one final twist to this story. Marissen is a graduate of Calvin College—and, as we might expect from someone trained at Calvin, his analyses have generally shown a sympathy for traditional Christian viewpoints. That kind of sympathy doesn’t seem to be here in this Easter Sunday essay, replaced by a gotcha! superciliousness. The Swarthmore paper reports that Marissen is deeply interested in religion and attends both a Methodist church and a synagogue. Perhaps he has outgrown the narrow horizons of his Michigan training and branched out in Pennsylvania. The New York Times loves that kind of growth. When it comes to Supreme Court justices, the paper calls it “maturing on the Court.”

    Still, I wonder what they think of their alumnus’ Easter gift back at Calvin?

    Michael Linton is head of the Division of Music Theory and Composition at Middle Tennessee State University.


    Sir Jason

    ReplyDelete