The most interesting thing to come out of the Refo500 celebrations is a cantata produced to celebrate the beginning of the Swiss Reformation – an event which has become known as the “Affair of the Sausages”.
Back in 1522, the Catholic Church made it compulsory that every Christian should fast for Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter. But the reformer Ulrich Zwingli believed that fasting should be voluntary – a matter of individual choice. So while most of the town of Zürich was fasting, he joined in a rebellion at the house of Christoph Froschauer, a printer, in which two smoked sausages were cut up and distributed among his workers.
A cantata was written last year by composer Edward Rushton and lyricist Ulrich Knellwolf, to commemorate what might be considered the most momentous sausage-eating act in all of Christian history. The piece is called… “Geist und Wurst”.
Yes: “Spirit and Sausage”.
Here are some excerpts:
Performances in Switzerland over the last year have been followed by a celebratory sausage-eating:
In a piece entitled “Fall of the Watchers”, artist Eric Ondina has managed to capture an aspect of the myth of sex between Watcher angels and human women that usually gets glossed over in renditions of the story.
The Book of Watchers tersely summarises that the Watchers “took” the women, “went into” them, and “defiled themselves with” them (7.1ab). The twenty named Watchers are contrasted with the anonymous and unnamed women who they “choose for themselves”. The Watchers act, and the unnamed women are acted upon. Their identities are suppressed, irrelevant to their function within the plot. Their reactions here are limited to their childbearing function: they “became pregnant” and “bore to them gigantic offspring” (7.2).
But what did giving birth to “gigantic offspring” do to these women? The text falls silent, in contrast to the cries of anguish which would have accompanied such extreme foetal dystocia. The birth canal is only important in the story insofar as it satisfies the Watchers’ desires – for sexual intercourse and for children.
But in Ondina’s “Fall of the Watchers”, the effect on the Women is brought to the fore in the artist’s portrayal of an evidently painful, bulging womb. But this pain is combined with a comical characterisation of the women as obsessed with the jewellery that the Watchers gave to them. The combination of extreme discomfort and vain satisfaction is, of course, absurd. And this absurdity provides a visual critique of the tendency in the Watcher myth to belittle or even blame women for the actions of the Watchers.
Ondina himself comments:
I have extracted multiple motifs from this story and melded them into a dynamic composition. The piece is painted in oil on a hand molded, cresting, reinforced plaster slab, which is bordered by a deep cradle frame. It was my intention to make a painting which mirrors this mini-epic in scale, drama and abject gruesomeness. With this in mind I decided to invoke the compositional and painting techniques found in the dynamic baroque of the 17th century while emulating the decisive moment found in 18th century Romanticism. There is also a clear reference to the Northern European Renaissance in the detail, cathedral-esque shape of the substrate, insider humor, and violence. These fuse into a style I have developed in this series which is both contemporary and historically reinforced. While my painting seeks to provide a portal into the past, I seek to do so through a modern lens, injecting subtle to sardonic satire into my subjects. This is readily apparent along the bottom of the painting; in the lower right hand corner an oblivious woman pampers herself with gold and makeup, her stomach bursting at the seams as her hulking half-angel broodling slithers out. She is a sarcastic embodiment of how our contemporary sensitivities are want to perceive this story. The Abrahamic religions are not renowned for their justice towards women, and The Book of Enoch once again exemplifies this ancient trend. Women are the seductresses and the baby factories, the intermediaries and cause of the sinfulness pressed upon the world; because of their erotic allure, mankind suffered nightmarish consequences. My painted jezebel is a mocking testimony to this ancient fear-mongering.
In portraying this extreme foetal dystocia in this manner, Ondina’s “Fall of the Watchers” has drawn attention to an aspect of the Watcher myth that has escaped many commentators, as well as critiquing that very failure to take account of the effects on women implied by the Watcher myth.
In the past few days, the existence of the Lost Book of King Og the Giant (dated ca. 1400 BCE) has been confirmed by the murkier recesses of the internet. A new website, The Lost Book of King Og has made available an English translation of the largely extant Chapter 7 of this ancient seven-chapter work.
The contents are fascinating. Chapter 7 begins with taunts from King Og to Israel, in which the former appears to compare Israel to ants buried in fecal matter. There are also tantalizing references to “my brethren” which seem to refer to the antediluvian Nephilim (Gen 6:4).
Are the tales of my [exploits] not [traveling] to you O [fecal worm?] of Israel? Of my power [. . .] renowned fields of my [Pre-Adamic/Pre-Watcher][Nephilim] brethren? [. . .murder. . .] How we turned our wrath [. . .mercy. . .a foreigner. . .] the old world stood.
In another section of the chapter, King Og declares that his age is 800 years – confirming the great age attributed to Giants in other ancient texts. This puts his birth a little after the Flood, according the Bible’s internal chronology (which suggests the “translator” may have miscalculated a little).
The publication of The Lost Book of King Og provides further evidence of the existence of giants at the time of the conquest. It may be compared to the letter sent by the Confederation of Giants to Joshua, found in Book 27 of the Samaritan Book of Joshua, the original of which may well date as early as the invasion of the land of Canaan in ca. 1456 BCE.
The translator of The Lost Book of King Og, Demmon, is also the author of an online serialized werewolf story, The Gonteekwa, a much longer work of fiction.
Religious debate and speculation increasingly took the form of writing new texts and pseudo-scriptures, which took the familiar canonized stories and developed them according to contemporary needs and interests. It is scarcely too much to describe some of these pseudepigraphic and apocryphal works as fan fiction.
He then considers the level of invention involved in composing this “fan fiction”:
Not only are writers developing stories, but they are doing so in amazingly florid form, creating whole new mythologies packed with abundant names and titles. Presumably, some authors are sitting down and inventing these names of demons and giants afresh, while others are taking those and adding their own contributions to the expanding mythos. As we know from modern-day fantasy writers, once that process begins, it rapidly spreads and expands.
This is a good point about the Book of Giants, which bears little resemblance to any biblical passage. In fact, while much of the content shares common material with the Jewish work, the Book of Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36), other parts, such as the names of the giants “Gilgamesh” and “Hunbabis” draw from Babylonian myth. Moreover, the story-line in the Book of Giants, so far as it can be reconstructed from the fragments, introduces some highly original and inventive traditions about the giants. So we can’t accurately categorize Book of Giants as “rewritten Bible”: it neither derives straightforwardly or substantially from biblical traditions nor involves mere “rewriting”, but creatively uses older traditions within a new and original narrative.
Mroczek urges that we seek to appreciate early Jewish literature on its own terms, without assuming that its authors were primarily interested in the texts which later became parts of the Bible. She writes:
The absolute centrality of the biblical is a theological, not a historical axiom: a concern with the biblical in the texts that we study must be shown with evidence, not assumed by default. While the history of the field is a history of people seeking the origins, development, and meaning of these iconic texts, the subjects of our study were not necessarily preoccupied with the same things; they were not marching to the biblical finishing line, but living in a culture whose intellectual, religious, and literary creativity cannot be assimilated into one dominant icon. Recognizing this will help us see Second Temple literature more clearly on its own terms.
Mroczek applies these principles to ancient Jewish David traditions. But they apply well to the Book of Giants, too.