Scores that still score

These are the scores I play most often when I write. Novels, essays, blogposts — so much of it inspired by the following music.

1. Conan the Barbarian, Basil Poledouris, 1982. The film is so operatic that it seems to have been crafted for the score rather than vice-versa — nothing like the cheesy fantasy films that otherwise plagued the ’80s. I watch Conan every year at least once, and listen to the score every month at least twice. Thundering brass and Latin chants roll over grim battle sequences, while variations of the main theme recur, and a gothic choir creeps in almost unnoticeably on the slow melodies. Then there is the waltz, one of my favorite pieces, for the orgy scene, which reminds me of Ravela repetitive waltz that escalates to a Bolero-like crescendo. Conan is the masterpiece score, and I dare you to name one better.

Try these: Riders of Doom, Civilization, The Kitchen & The Orgy.

2. Fire Walk With Me, Angelo Badalamenti, 1992. This score blends smoky jazz, ’50s pop, and dark noir into a masterpiece that still could use more appreciation. In the ’90s Fire Walk With Me was cursed and reviled (everyone wanted a Twin Peaks film, not a psychological horror film) but now many Lynch fans consider it one of his best, if not his best, and that’s just as true of the score. Even the most subdued compositions are unnerving and menacing. Never has a saxophone gone through me like an awl. Julee Cruise puts in an appearance – as no Twin Peaks film would be complete without her – singing “Questions in a World of Blue”, in one of the most heartbreaking scenes (Laura at the bar) I’ve seen in a film.

Try these: Fire Walk With Me, Laura Palmer’s Theme, Questions in a World of Blue.

3. The Lord of the Rings, Howard Shore, 2001-2003. Howard Shore has always been a genius, and The Lord of the Rings opus is what he had been working towards his whole career. All the major themes sound exactly as one imagines the cultures of Middle-Earth to sound: the Celtic Shire theme with fiddles and whistles; the elegant Rivendell piece with violins and chimes; the unnerving Lothlorien tune with cellos and haunting choruses; the brass and percussive Isengard chants; the raw Moria theme that goes deeper and deeper; the horse-rider music of Rohan with the hardanger fiddle; the stately and grand anthem of Minas Tirith; the gothic Nazgul theme with the raging choir; the bittersweet departure at the Grey Havens. It’s nothing short of miraculous.

Try these: The Breaking of the Fellowship, The Fields of Pelennor, The Grey Havens.

4. Marco Polo, Ennio Morricone, 1982. This guy has scored countless films and TV series, and it’s a wonder that his output is top-notch quality regardless of how much he’s getting paid for it. Marco Polo was an ’80s TV series, and I doubt he was compensated for it as he deserved to be. The tones and textures are some of the most beautiful pieces I’ve heard — I’m surprised it’s not more widely appreciated. It’s only been released in Italy, and only available on vinyl through amazon, though most of the pieces can be listened to on youtube.

Try these: Mai Li’s Song, The Legend of the Great Wall, First Love

5. Passion, Peter Gabriel, 1989. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that it’s one of the worst Jesus films of all time. But the score is one of the best ever made for any film — as how could it not be, with Peter Gabriel composing? Here he mines Armenian, Egyptian and Kurdish melodies in order to bring third-world rhythms into a western ambit, and the result is pure gold. I think of the Middle-East and Africa when I listen to Passion — not in a religious way, but in the way I imagine Gabriel trying to honor its peoples.

Try these: Zaar, Open, A Different Drum.

6. Antarctica, Vangelis, 1983. I’m one of those fools who believes that Chariots of Fire is a bit overrated (both the film and the score), and that the lesser known Antarctica is what earns Vangelis his immortality. This soundtrack is simply spellbinding. You can hear ice in between the notes, and it sounds as cold, solitary, and vast as the South Pole itself. The film itself is okay; it’s about a pack of dogs abandoned in the antarctic, but not at all essential to appreciate the music. I often nap to it in the winter seasons.

Try these: Song of White, Deliverance.

7. Sunshine, John Murphy and Underworld, 2007. Sunshine is about a team of astronauts who take the suicidal step of trying to reignite a dying Sun, and the score — an onslaught of whooshes and blares — goes perfectly with the visuals. It achieves what most composers can only aspire to, ratcheting up tension with insistent themes that stay with you for a long time.

Try these: Kaneda’s Death, The Surface of the Sun.


Review: The Critical Qur’an – Explained from Key Islamic Commentaries and Contemporary Historical Research

If you want a Qur’an commentary that goes where others fear to tread, then try Robert Spencer’s The Critical Qur’an. To describe it, imagine a certain translation of the Bible (say the RSV) that is footnoted with textual variants, theological commentary from Christian authorities spanning antiquity to the present, and also modern historical-critical commentary. The Critical Qur’an is a reference tool like that, and a very useful one.

There are four features of this Qur’an that are virtually impossible to find elsewhere in a single volume:

1. Variant readings. It’s one of the first Qur’anic commentaries, if not the very first, to provide variant readings from different manuscripts, in the same way that variant readings are found in most study Bibles for the Tanakh and New Testament.

2. Tafsir commentary. Citations from mainstream Muslim exegetes (the tafsir) are provided, spanning the 8th to 21st centuries. This is highly valuable since all these theologians and jurists are held to be authoritative. Their commentary allows the reader to understand how the Qur’anic texts have been, and continue to be, understood in mainstream Islam.

3. Critical commentary. There are also citations from Qur’anic scholars whose academic insights shed light on the textual evolution of the Qur’an.

4. Clarity. This Qur’an clarifies difficult or troublesome passages. For example, the many exhortations to jihad are usually translated as “strive hard” in the way of Allah — which is perfectly legitimate, since “jihad” means “strive” or “struggle” — but the primary meaning of jihad in Islamic theology is warfare against unbelievers. So in The Critical Qur’an, when it says “jihad” in Arabic, it says “jihad” in English, so the English-speaking reader will be keyed to the fact that this word has been consistently interpreted a certain way in mainstream Islam.

I’ll elaborate with examples of Spencer’s commentary, to give an idea as to the book’s format.

1. Variants

The Qur’an we think of today was published in 1924 in Cairo and has since been the dominant edition over the world — the supposed version of the Qur’an that was agreed on in 653 CE under Muhammad’s third successor, the caliph Uthman. In fact there were many different qira’at (variants) used throughout the Islamic empire, at least fourteen of which were known by the 8th century (all listed by Spencer on p 3). And each of those divergent traditions had more than one transmitter (usually two), compounding the variance.

Of those many qira’at, the Hafs tradition became the one of “Uthman’s” Qur’an of 1924, but the Warsh tradition still dominates in western and north-western Africa. The Critical Qur’an follows Hafs while noting the Warsh and other variants for some verses. So for example, Sura 2:10 reads (following Hafs), “They will suffer a painful doom because they lie.” Spencer comments: “Instead of ‘because they lie’ (yakzibuuna), the Warsh Qur’an has ‘because they accuse of lying’ (yukazzibuuna).” (p 14)

Another example is Sura 9:66, which reads, “If we forgive a group of you, we punish a group of you, because they have been guilty.” Spencer lists two variants for this one: “Instead of, ‘If we forgive [na’fu] a group of you, we punish [nu’azzib] a group of you,’ Ibn Kathir [the 8th century transmitter, not the 14th-century tasfir exegete] has, ‘If some of you are forgiven [yu’fa], others will be punished [tu’azzab]. Instead of ‘we forgive,’ the Warsh Qur’an has ‘he forgives.’ Instead of ‘we punish,’ the Warsh Qur’an has ‘he punishes.'” (p 142)

2. Tafsir Commentary

The bulk of Spencer’s commentary draws on the tafsir — mainstream exegetes, theologians, and jurists who are authoritative in the Islamic world, notably, al-Tabari (839-923), al-Zamakhshari (1074-1173), al-Qurtubi (1214-1273), Ibn Juzayy (1294-1340), Ibn Kathir (1301-1372), the two Jalals (Jalal ad-Din al-Mahalli, 1389-1459, and Jalal ad-Din al-Suyuti, 1445-1505), along with 20th century tasfirs, such as the influential Pakistani Syed Abul Ala Maududi (1903-1979), and the Indian Mufti Muhammad Ashiq Ilahi Bulandshahri (1925-2002). And others. Ibn Kathir and the two Jalals are cited the most frequently, given their influence.

So for example, Sura 8:12-13 reads, “When your Lord inspired the angels, I am with you. So make those who believe stand firm. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Strike the necks and strike their fingertips. That is because they opposed Allah and his messenger. Whoever opposes Allah and his messenger, indeed, Allah is severe in punishment.” Spencer comments:

“[This passage] became one of the chief justifications for the Islamic practice of beheading hostages and war captives. Ibn Kathir explains that the angels are instruments of Allah’s wrath who are to ‘support the believers, strengthen their (battle) front against their enemies, thus, implementing My command to you. I will cast fear, disgrace and humiliation over those who defied My command and denied My Messenger. Strike them on their foreheads to tear them apart and over the necks to cut them off, and cut off their limbs, hands and feet.’

The Tafsir al-Jalalayn [the two Jalals] explains this in terms that assume divine assistance, asserting: ‘It happened that a man would go to strike at the neck of an unbeliever and his head would fall off before his sword was able to get there.’ ” (p 126)

For another example, Sura 9:29 reads, “Fight against those do not believe in Allah or the last day, and do not forbid what Allah and his messenger have forbidden,and do not follow the religion of truth, even if they are among the people of the book, until they pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.” Here is part of Spencer’s commentary on the verse:

“The Tafsir al-Jalalayn says that this verse specifies that Muslims must fight against those who do not follow Islam, ‘which confirms and abrogates’ other religions. The people of the book are mentioned in the verse and traditionally have been understood as the only ones who are offered the option of paying the jizya, while other non-Muslims who do not have a written scripture that is recognized in the Qur’an must either convert or die. However, the Tafsir as-Sadi explains that ‘the jizya may be taken from all the disbelievers, People of the Book and others, because this verse was revealed after the Muslims had finished fighting with the polytheist Arabs and had begun to fight the People of the Book and their ilk, so this condition is describing the real situation and is not meant to impose a restriction on accepting jizya from the People of the Book only.’

Ibn Kathir says that the dhimmis must be “disgraced, humiliated and belittled. Therefore, Muslims are not allowed to honor the people of dhimmah or elevate them above Muslims, for they are miserable, disgraced and humiliated.” The seventh-century jurist Sa’id ibn al-Musayyab is said to have declared: ‘I prefer that the people of the dhimma become tired by paying the jizya since He says, “until they pay the jizya with their own hands in a state of complete abasement.” ‘ As-Suyuti elaborates that this verse ‘is used as a proof by those who say that it is taken in a humiliating way, and so the taker sits and the dhimmi stands with his head bowed and his back bent. The jizya is placed in the balance and the taker seizes his beard and hits his chin.’ Al-Zamakhshari agreed that the jizya should be collected ‘with belittlement and humiliation.’

In explaining how the Jews and Christians must ‘feel themselves subdued,’ Ibn Kathir quotes a saying of Muhammad: ‘Do not initiate the Salam [greeting of peace] to the Jews and Christians, and if you meet any of them in a road, force them to its narrowest alley.’

With remarkably little variation, throughout Islamic history whenever Islamic law was strictly enforced, this is generally how non-Muslims were treated. Although today they’re often presented as tolerant toward the Christians, Ibn Kathir says that these rules ‘ensured their continued humiliation, degradation and disgrace.’ The Christians agreed not to ‘restore any place of worship that needs restoration’; ‘ride on saddles, hang swords on the shoulders, collect weapons of any kind or carry these weapons’; or ‘publicize practices of Shirk’ (see 2:193, 4:31, and 6:21). They also agreed not to build ‘crosses on the outside of our churches and demonstrating them and our books in public in Muslim fairways and markets’ or ‘sound the bells in our churches, except discreetly, or raise our voices while reciting our holy books inside our churches in the presence of Muslims, nor raise our voices [with prayer] at our funerals, or light torches in funeral processions in the fairways of Muslims, or their markets.’ ” (pp 137-138)

Commentary like this is immensely valuable on the strength of its authority, and it may inspire the reader (as it did me) to become more familiar with the tafsir.

3. Critical commentary

Spencer also has an eye on history and textual criticism — corruptions, substrata, and other aspects that challenge the reader. Sura 37:75-78 reads, “And Noah prayed to us, and the hearer of his prayer was favorable. And we saved him and his family from the great distress, and made his descendants the survivors, and left for him among the later people.” Spencer notes a possible textual corruption:

“The phrase ‘left for him among the later people’ is repeated at 37:108, 37:119, and 37:129. The Tafsir al-Jalalayn explains it as meaning that the ‘later people’ would remain ‘in praise until the Day of Rising’ of those righteous ones who went before. However, Barth notes that this usage of taraka alayhi, ‘we left for him,’ is unusual in the extreme and may be evidence of textual corruption, for this phrase ‘without an object in the accusative is against all Arabic usage, even against that of the Koran.’ (J. Barth, “Studies Contributing to Criticism and Exegesis of the Koran,” in Ibn Warraq, ed., What the Koran Really Says (Amherst, New York: Prometheus, 2002), 409.)” (p 311)

It’s worth noting that Spencer relies significantly on the work of Christoph Luxenberg, who argued that the Qur’an was derived from Syriac Christian liturgy, and that obscure portions of the Qur’an become clear when retro-translated into Syrio-Aramaic. I’m generally not on board with this sort of approach. Luxenberg’s large-scale etymological retroversions remind me of the way Maurice Casey reconstructed Aramaic passages behind the gospel of Mark. The Qur’an surely drew on Syrio-Aramaic sources, and perhaps some of Luxenberg’s etymological solutions are valid, but I’m skeptical that his approach can be taken as a rule. Likewise, it’s not controversial to acknowledge that Islam is descended from Christianity (a more obscure Torah-observant wing of Christianity, that is), and that in some ways Islam was the first Mormonism. You can easily spot Christian themes throughout the Qur’anic text, but I don’t see the “original Qur’an” as being an actual Christian lectionary as Luxenberg urges.

I count the following dozen references to Luxenberg in The Critical Qur’an:

2:1. The mysterious letters of the Qur’an, which in the Syriac lectionary indicated what Psalms were to be recited.

2:135. The idea of Abraham as a hanif (heathen), which was imported from Christian belief (Rom 4:9-12).

2:185. The word “Qur’an”, derived from the Syrio-Aramaic qeryana (“reading” or “pericope” or “selection for reading”).

3:96. Bakka, the first Islamic sanctuary, was doubtfully Mecca.

5:114. Echo of the Christian eucharist, but more than just an echo (as most scholars would have it): an actual Christian liturgical celebration lying behind the text.

17:64. Satan startling people with his voice, which is at odds with 114:5.

19:24. The Lord placing a stream beneath Mary, which originally had nothing to do with a stream but rather Mary’s delivering a virgin birth.

24:31. Women’s behavior in public, which paraphrases Isaiah 3:16.

44:54. The infamous houris, which is usually translated as “maidens” or “virgins,” and central to the Islamic understanding of the virgins of paradise. But hur (the equivalent of houri in Islamic tradition) doesn’t mean “virgins,” as even Arabic philologists acknowledge, but is rather the plural form of an adjective that means “white”. The original passage referred not to virgins but to white raisins, or grapes, which were a prized delicacy and indeed a much more fitting symbol of the reward of paradise (which is frequently referred to in the Qur’an as a “garden,”, in any case, rather than sexual favors from virgins).

52:24. Servant boys likened to “hidden pearls”. Like the “virgins” of 44:54, the “boys” were originally grapes and another example of Christian paradisal imagery.

96:6,15,19. “No indeed”, a confusing negation that makes sense when retro-translated, pointing to eucharist practices.

108:1-3. Three verses that appear pre-Qur’anic.

For all I know, some of these may be valid, though really I find only 44:54 persuasive and 3:96 an interesting idea. (Regarding the latter, it has been suggested that the original Islamic sanctuary was Petra rather than Mecca.) “Grapes” may very well lie behind the houris passage. I regard Sura 44:54 as somewhat analogous to Mark 2:27-28 (where Jesus says “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”) Maurice Casey argued that “son of man” was a generic for “man/humanity” in Aramaic, with Jesus saying, effectively, that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath, and so any man — not just a messianic/titular Son of Man — is master of the sabbath. It makes good sense of the saying and fits the portrayed conflict in the gospel, though this generic use of “son of man” perhaps fits less well in other passages (Mark 9:11-13, 10:35-45, 14:12-26).

Linguistic retroversions have heuristic value but I don’t put too much stock in them. This isn’t much of a criticism, however, for whatever you think of Luxenberg, Spencer’s citations are useful reference points.

4. Clarity

In general Spencer brings clarity to passages that are especially problematic for non-Muslim readers and are often obscured in apologetics. For example, Sura 4:34 reads, “Good women are obedient, guarding in secret what Allah has guarded. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, give them a warning and banish them to separate beds, and beat them.” Spencer comments:

“Wife-beating exists in all cultures, but only in Islam does it enjoy divine sanction. Allah tells men to beat their disobedient wives after first warning them and then sending them to sleep in separate beds. This is, of course, an extremely controversial verse, but there is not a great deal of variation in how the primary translators of the Qur’an have rendered the salient word, waidriboohunna.

Pickthall: ‘and scourge them’
Yusuf Ali: ‘(And last) beat them (lightly)’
Al-Hilali/Khan: ‘(and last) beat them (lightly, if it is useful)’
Shakir: ‘and beat them’
Sher Ali: ‘and chastise them’
Khalifa: ‘then you may (as a last alternative) beat them’
Arberry: ‘and beat them’
Rodwell: ‘and scourge them’
Sale: ‘and chastise them’
Asad: ‘then beat them’
The Study Quran: ‘then strike them’
Saheeh International: ‘strike them [lightly]’

Those translations that add the word ‘lightly’ are not working from the Arabic text of the Qur’an, in which this caveat does not appear.

In her 2007 translation, The Sublime Quran, the Islamic scholar Laleh Bakhtiar translates waidriboohunna as ‘go away from them.’ In light of the essential unanimity among virtually all other translators, both Muslim and non-Muslim, this seems difficult to sustain, as it would require believing that all of these authorities got the passage wrong until Bakhtiar. But the acute embarrassment that this passage causes contemporary Muslims is widespread. In his 1980 translation, Asad adduces numerous traditions in which Muhammad ‘forbade the beating of any woman,’ concluding that wife-beating is ‘barely permissible, and should preferably be avoided.’

In contrast Sheikh Syed Mahmud Allusi in his nineteenth-century commentary Ruhul Ma’ani gives four reasons that a man may beat his wife: ‘if she refuses to beautify herself for him’, if she refuses sex when he asks for it, if she refuses to pray or perform ritual ablutions, and ‘if she goes out of the house without a valid excuse.’

Also, Muhammad’s example is normative for Muslims, since he is an ‘excellent example’ (33:21), and a hadith has Aisha report that Muhammad struck her. Once he went out at night after he thought she was asleep, and she followed him surreptitiously. Muhammad saw her, and, as Aisha recounts: ‘He struck me on the chest which caused me pain, and then said: Did you think that Allah and His Apostle would deal unjustly with you?’ In another hadith, a woman comes to Aisha and ‘showed her a green spot on her skin caused by beating from her husband;’ Aisha is made to say: ‘I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women.’ ” (p 70)

Diligent clarity like this is what readers are often looking for in Qur’an commentaries to no avail, and so it’s a welcome breath of fresh air.

The question of cherry-picking

The Critical Qur’an puts to bed claims about cherry-picking. Critics like Spencer are often accused of this — fixating on verses of the Qur’an that advocate violence and oppression while dismissing peaceful texts — but this is the entire Qur’an, and Spencer comments on the (few) peaceful passages as much as the (many) violent ones, making clear why the former are problematic. The Doctrine of Abrogation holds that violent verses of the Qur’an take precedence over peaceful verses, since the violent ones were revealed later in the lifetime of Muhammad, when he was in a position to wage war and subjugate his enemies. Per Sura 2:106, later revelations abrogate earlier ones when the two are in conflict. Peace and tolerance are advised only when Muslims are in no position to wage war.

So for example, the highly militant Sura 9 is arguably the most important sura in the Qur’an, since according to the Hadith, it was the very last one revealed to Muhammad (see Bukhari, vol. 5, book 64, no. 4364). Sura 9 holds precedence over other suras and legitimates offensive war as normative for believers for all time. That’s not cherry picking on the part of the critic or commentator. It’s acknowledging how mainstream Islam “cherry picks” from its holy book and prioritizes its passages.

Other religions allow more leeway. The early rabbis, for example, were able to have lively debates over whether or not children suffer punishment for the sins of their parents, for there is no controlling text within the Jewish scriptures that would lead one to favor Exodus 20:5 (“yes”) over Ezekiel 18:20 (“no”), or vice-versa. That’s what makes most scriptures conveniently malleable. A Doctrine of Abrogation kills that malleability.

And it should go without saying — though it usually needs saying — that not every Muslim, nor even most Muslims, adhere strictly to Islamic doctrine. And there are very brave Islamic reformers doing their utmost to change things. Mahmoud Muhammad Taha (1909-1985) of Sudan tried to reverse the Doctrine of Abrogation and make the Qur’an’s early peaceful revelations supersede the later violent ones, and for this heresy he was killed. Reformers deserve our full support and respect for acknowledging the only (and very difficult) way out of the problem.

Most Muslims are peaceful and don’t follow Islam strictly. But significant numbers of them do. Jihad and sharia remain imperatives in mainstream Islam, and The Critical Qur’an goes a long way towards accounting for why that is the case. That won’t stop this book from being dismissed on grounds of “Islamophobia”, manufactured bigotry, and Spencer’s personal politics, but those are empty criticisms — ad hominems leveled by people who have little to show for themselves. The Critical Qur’an is a multi-purpose tool for those wanting to understand how Islam’s holy book is widely interpreted, for ideas about its origins and textual issues, and it is a most welcome contribution.

Review: The Resurrection of Jesus (The Empty Tomb Revisited)

This 400-page monograph is a reworking of a 177-page essay (that filled half a book, Resurrecting Jesus, 2005), and worth making time for if you have it. It amounts to the best treatment of Jesus’s (alleged) resurrection I know of, and covers a lot of interesting ground, but in this post I’ll restrict myself to chapters 6 and 8 (from a total of 18 chapters) which focus on the empty tomb. Allison has revised his arguments, some for the better and others for the worse, though the overall conclusion remains intact.

By way of preface, it’s interesting that Allison describes himself a multiple personality: “pious” (a church-goer who thinks theologically), “critical” (a historian who knows how intrusive theology can be), “skeptical” (about almost everything; a fan of Socrates who knew that he knew nothing), and a “Fortean” (holding that reality is full of surprises and things that resist reasonable explanation) (pp 4-5). But he wrote this book chiefly as a critical historian, trying “to be led to his conclusions rather than being led by them”, and it’s hard to find scholars with this level of integrity on the subject of the resurrection.

The empty tomb as pure legend

Allison weighs eight arguments against the empty tomb as follows:

  1. The account is only singularly attested; it comes from Markan creativity. (pp 117-119)
  2. The account is inspired by scripture, especially Dan 6. (pp 119-125)
  3. The words about the women fleeing the tomb, “they said nothing to anyone” (Mk 16:8), is a literary explanation for why no one had heard of the empty tomb before. (pp 125-127)
  4. The account involves the miraculous. (p 128)
  5. Paul knows nothing of an empty tomb, so the account must have originated after him. (pp 129-136)
  6. Mark’s original ending was not about an empty tomb. (pp 136-137)
  7. If people had visions of Jesus and had come to believe in his resurrection, it’s easy to see how an empty tomb legend would have arisen; human beings create religious fictions to justify beliefs all the time. (pp 137-138)
  8. There is remarkable precedent for — indeed, an overwhelming abundance of — legendary stories about empty tombs and disappearing bodies. (pp 138-140)

After going through each one, he concludes (with typos):

“Of the seven eight arguments just introduced, the first five six are, like Jesus’s tomb in the gospels, empty. The sixth seventh, however, cannot be blithely dismissed. Early Christians had the imaginative ability to fabricate fictions on the basis of theological convictions, and on more than one occasion they did so. One of them made up the story in Mt 27:51b-53 (the walking zombies). We can also be fairly confident that the narrative about the guard in Mt 27:62-66 is sheer fiction. The seventh eighth argument impresses me as even more formidable.” (p 140)

(The typos: In Resurrecting Jesus (2005), Allison had considered seven arguments, not eight. Now he includes the one about Mark’s original ending (#6), but didn’t revise the summary to reflect the expanded list.)

I basically agree with how he assesses the eight. The first six are unpersuasive, and I would say that (1), (4), (5), and (6) hardly merit attention at all. Arguments (2) and (3) should be taken seriously, however, and it’s nice to see that Allison has expanded his original rebuttals against them. The obvious difficulty with argument (2) — Dan 6 as the inspiration for the empty tomb — is that Daniel was still found in the den in the morning, while Jesus was not. But Allison demonstrates at length how bankrupt this sort of “parallelomania” is, not least through a personal exercise: as he was editing his work on IV Baruch, for the fun of it, he went hunting for parallels between Mark 14 and IV Baruch 5. He found nine striking similarities. “Seek and you will find. The parallels prove nothing except how simple it is, because of the far reach of coincidence, to compile parallels.” (p 123)

With regards to argument (3) — that the women in Mk 16:8 “said nothing to anyone” is an explanation as to why the tradition of the empty tomb was not well known — Allison points out that “they said nothing to anyone” trails not a command to proclaim the empty tomb but a command to tell the disciples about Jesus going before them to Galilee (p 125). The angel simply says that Jesus has been raised and his tomb is empty (Mk 16:6); it orders the women on another account entirely (Mk 16:7), and that’s what their saying nothing (Mk 16:8) is linked to. He notes further (again, expanding his original rebuttal) that Mk 16:8 is probably analogous to Mk 1:44, where Jesus tells a healed leper to “say nothing to anyone”, even though the leper will obviously have to explain himself to the temple establishment where Jesus orders him to go. “Just as 1:44 means ‘say nothing to anyone (except the priests)’, so 16:8 may well mean ‘said nothing to anyone (except his disciples)’.” (p 127)

Allison is right that arguments (7) and (8) are the only decent ones against the historicity of the empty tomb — and they are indeed perfectly plausible. Amusingly, he footnotes the evangelical William Lane Craig: “It is shocking to me that Allison could construe such a priori possibilities based on general background knowledge as constituting a respectable case against the fact of an empty tomb.” (p 140) It is not shocking to me at all, nor in the least bit surprising that Craig would react like this; he probably speaks for many evangelicals.

The empty tomb as historical

Allison weighs eight arguments for the empty tomb as follows, and in this case he ranks them from least to most persuasive:

  1. The view combated in Mt 28:11-15 — that the disciples robbed the tomb — shows that everyone agreed the tomb was empty. (pp 141-142)
  2. The early Christians gave no attention to the tomb of Jesus, which is strange in light of Jewish veneration for the burial places of prophets and martyrs. Only an empty tomb accounts for this lack of veneration. (pp 142-145)
  3. Paul’s language in I Cor 15 assumes an empty tomb. (pp 144-145)
  4. Visions of Jesus without an empty tomb would not trigger a resurrection belief. (pp 145-146)
  5. The early Christians could not have gotten away with preaching the resurrection of an individual (a wacky idea) in Jerusalem unless, at the very least, the tomb of that individual was known to be open and empty. (pp 146-150)
  6. Apologetic interests, if present in the resurrection narratives, are undisclosed. (pp 150-152)
  7. The empty tomb account of Mark 16:1-8 (like Jesus’ baptism in Mk 1:9-11) undergoes so much apologetic glosses and expansions in the other gospels, that it looks a historical memory that couldn’t be ignored, rather than something invented. (pp 152-153)
  8. In a culture where women were seen as inferior to men, and the testimony of women was viewed as unreliable, the early Christians would not have invented female witnesses to the empty tomb. (pp 154-162)

Again, Allison includes a new argument (#7) for a total of eight, and concludes:

“Of our two options — that a tomb was in fact unoccupied or that a belief in the resurrection imagined it unoccupied — the former, as I read the evidence, is the stronger possibility. The two best arguments against the tradition — the ability of the early Christians to create fictions and the existence of numerous legends about missing bodies — while powerful, remain hypothetical and suggestive, whereas the best two arguments for the tradition are concrete and evidential: (a) the short enigmatic story in Mk 16:1-8, which invited so much revision and expansion, looks like a memory Christians sought to upgrade, and (b) the involvement of Mary Magdalene and the women commends itself as nonfiction.” (p 162)

I don’t know about this. I would rank the eight arguments much differently. The two that impress me the most are (3) and (4), not (7) and (8). Let’s go through them (and simply acknowledge that (1), (2), (5), and (6) hardly deserve attention).

Regarding argument (3): The testimony of Paul counts more in favor of an empty tomb than Allison allows. The fact that Paul mentions a burial — “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures (I Cor 15:3b-4) — implies to me an allusion to the empty tomb. If Paul believed that Jesus had died and ascended into heaven without his body being resurrected, then Jesus’s burial is irrelevant and intrusive. (Paul would have probably just said, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures”.) To go from “burial” to “resurrection” evokes a tomb being filled and then emptied.

Regarding argument (4): It’s strange that Allison has backpedaled and relegated this to (4), where in Resurrecting Jesus (2005) it was high on his list of persuasive power. He actually still does believe in its persuasive power and argues for his own variant of it; he just doesn’t like the way it’s been deployed by its chief advocate, Tom Wright. He says, “I wish to be perfectly clear here. At the end of the say, I am not far from Wright on this matter. Belief in Jesus’ resurrection was the upshot of three stimuli: pre-Easter eschatological expectations, encounters with the postmortem Jesus, and the empty tomb. That is, I do not believe that the appearances themselves did the trick. Nonetheless, I don’t believe that Wright’s argument, in the form that he offers it, should carry the day.” (p 146) I agree that Wright’s logic is flawed (as it almost always is), but Allison acknowledges the idea itself — that post-Easter appearances alone would have doubtfully triggered a resurrection belief — is solid, and so it deserves to be ranked higher. Allison just wants to distance himself from Wright as much as possible (and who can blame him).

As for arguments (7) and (8), I’m nonplussed. They depend on the criterion of embarrassment, and we all know how slippery that goes. (7) is actually the stronger one, on which Allison writes:

“We have here a phenomenon found elsewhere in the Jesus tradition, in places where a memory invited embellishment because a fact seemed problematic. That Judas, one of the twelve, betrayed Jesus was a source of potential embarrassment and so begged for elucidation. We accordingly find texts emphasizing that Jesus was not surprised, that the devil must have possessed Judas, that everything happened in accord with scripture, and that the betrayer came to a miserable end.

Matters are similar with Jesus’s baptism. That Jesus [the “sinless savior”] submitted to a ritual of repentance and forgiveness under the Baptist’s supervision raised uncomfortable questions. The tradition rose to the challenge…

What we find in Jesus’s baptism and Judas’s betrayal is what we find with the story of the empty tomb. Everywhere we discern attempts to head off possible objections and answer difficult questions. It is natural to suppose that, in all three cases, we have a historical memory that invited apologetic massaging.” (p 153)

Maybe. But this business is tricky. “Apologetic massaging” can occur over something that was invented to begin with. What was embarrassing decades after Jesus’s death (when the gospels were written) might not have been as difficult to accept at earlier stages of the movement. I lean towards the view that “embarrassing” accounts in the gospels — rare as they are — may slightly reduce the likelihood that the accounts were invented out of whole cloth, but I’d never rest my case on it without stronger supplements.

And argument (8) is not stronger by a long shot, though Allison has certainly doubled down on it. He sees the testimony of the women who saw the empty tomb to be revealing, in a male-dominated world like the ancient Mediterranean where women had little credibility. It’s thus difficult to believe the gospel writers would have invented “inferior women” being the star witnesses at the empty tomb. But I don’t think the two Marys and Salome would have been embarrassing in the least.

A patriarchal culture can be very welcoming of female heroes. Witness Judith (who decapitated Holofernes, for Christ’s sake), Deborah, Ruth, and other scriptural legacies. The Christian movement was generally favorable to women (by contemporary standards); for every “misogynist” text in Paul’s letters there is one praising the proactive roles of women in his church. It’s true that the legal testimony of women was often deemed worthless in antiquity, but a courtroom setting has no relevance to the empty tomb stories. I see no reason to suppose the accounts of women at the tomb were much embarrassing, if at all.

So here’s how I would re-rank Allison’s eight arguments for the historicity of the empty tomb, from least to most persuasive (the numbers in parenthesis are his rankings):

  1. (8) In a culture where women were seen as inferior to men, and the testimony of women was viewed as unreliable, the early Christians would not have invented female witnesses to the empty tomb.
  2. (1) The view combated in Mt 28:11-15 — that the disciples robbed the tomb — shows that everyone agreed the tomb was empty.
  3. (2) The early Christians gave no attention to the tomb of Jesus, which is strange in light of Jewish veneration for the burial places of prophets and martyrs. Only an empty tomb accounts for this lack of veneration.
  4. (5) The early Christians could not have gotten away with preaching the resurrection of an individual (a wacky idea) in Jerusalem unless, at the very least, the tomb of that individual was known to be open and empty.
  5. (6) Apologetic interests, if present in the resurrection narratives, are undisclosed.
  6. (7) The empty tomb account of Mark 16:1-8 (like Jesus’ baptism in Mk 1:9-11) undergoes so much apologetic glosses and expansions in the other gospels, that it looks a historical memory that couldn’t be ignored, rather than something invented.
  7. (3) Paul’s language in I Cor 15 assumes an empty tomb. (pp 144-145)
  8. (4) Visions of Jesus without an empty tomb would not trigger a resurrection belief.

What Allison considers the strongest argument I think the weakest (red), and what he considers second strongest I hold to be a moderately fair argument (bold italics). Two of the ones he regards as unpersuasive I do find persuasive (bold) — and so does he, actually, or at least the last one (“visions without a tomb”), as soon as he comfortably distances himself from Wright’s version of it. Here’s how he unpacks it in a later chapter, in a manner different from Wright.

Allison vs. Wright

Allison asks: If Jesus preached apocalyptic woes (which I agree he did), and if at some point he expected to suffer and even die during the eschatological trial (which I think likely), and then, on the last day, to participate in the resurrection of the dead at the same time as everyone else (agreed, only logical), then what might we expect his disciples to think in the days immediately following the crucifixion?

He suggests that some followers of Jesus simply gave up the cause (as often happens in failed millennial movements), while others, especially his closest circle of disciples, revised their expectations to fit what happened (as also often happens in failed millennial movements). But it was a re-interpretation laid over real-world circumstances: “Once they had the report of an empty tomb, and once a few had reportedly seen Jesus, they could begin to believe that God raised him, and that the general resurrection had commenced.” (p 203)

Prior to Jesus’s execution, this is what Jesus and the disciples expected:

1. Present and immediate future: Eschatological tribulation; suffering and death for the saints, including Jesus

2. Further future: Resurrection of the dead, including Jesus; triumph of the Son of Man; judgment; eternal kingdom

Soon after Easter, this is how the disciples now saw the salvation scheme:

1. Past: Suffering, death, and the resurrection of Jesus

2. Present: Tribulation, suffering, the persecution of saints

3. Future: Resurrection of the dead; return of the Son of Man; judgment; eternal kingdom

In other words, though there was a mismatch between events and expectations, the disciples forced a fit between the two to their satisfaction. Out of real-world circumstances they created two resurrections: their messiah’s a few days after his martyrdom, and the general resurrection later on. It took the empty tomb and postmortem visions to trigger this revision — not because people are incapable of dramatic revisionism without such triggers (as Wright claims), but because people usually resort to such creativity (without real-world triggers) to cope with broken dreams.

And that’s really the point, as I see it: that the disciples’ dreams hadn’t been broken. Maybe the ones who fell away and returned to their homes felt crushed, but for the core group, the crucifixion, while demoralizing, would have been taken as part of the apocalyptic drama: suffering/death had to precede the kingdom, just as Jesus taught them. They would have gone on hoping for the apocalypse, at which point they and Jesus would have been resurrected together. The empty tomb (coupled with visions) threw a wrench in the works, and caused them to conclude that Jesus had been resurrected prematurely.

Modest Results

Like Allison I don’t think we can be too confident about this stuff, and he’s right that a decent case can be made for the empty tomb as legend or history (the epileptic seizures this causes to pious Christians notwithstanding). For me, the latter is more persuasive by a small but healthy enough margin… though I don’t know that it really means anything. That Jesus’s tomb was empty, historically, could just as easily mean his corpse was stolen or moved, regardless of what fantastical event the disciples ascribed to it. Whatever happened to the body, thanks to the empty tomb, we have this thing today called Christianity.

Germany’s Similar Regional Policies in the Two World Wars

To supplement the award-winner on the the relationship between Islam and Nazism during WWII I’m reading Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Barry Rubin and Wolfgang Schwanitz, 2014), which was published the same year. The books make similar points, apparently independently and unaware of each other. As I said before, I’d never realized how deep Germany was in with Islam and jihad during the first world war. I’d assumed the German-Ottoman alliance was much like any other.

At the end of one of the chapters, Rubin and Schwanitz list the following parallels between Kaiser Wilhelm’s and Fuhrer Hitler’s regional policies (pp 57-58):

1. Inciting Jihad. Germany’s policy in both wars was based on stirring Muslim revolt, and fomenting jihad, against its enemies. Germany cast itself as being the “friend of Islam” and of Muslim peoples, and as the sworn enemy of colonialism. The first world war, to be sure, was an awful conflict everywhere, in which hundreds of thousands of people died and poison gas was used, but Germany’s decision to launch a campaign of state-sponsored terrorism against civilians was nonetheless shocking at the time.

2. Racism. The second war needs no commentary on this point. In the first war, the Armenian Christians were vilified on racist grounds while the Turkish Muslims were praised as fellow warriors and rulers. Wrote one propagandist: “The Ottoman Turk will be cured, so thoroughly that when he wakes up from his sleep of recovery he will be difficult to recognize. One would think he has got blond hair, blue eyes, and looks quite Germanic. In our loving embrace we have injected so much German essence into him that he will be hard to distinguish from a German.”

3. Holocaust. In purposefully stirring racial hatred, Germany anticipated and accepted the idea that this would produce mass murders of minorities (Armenian Christians in WW1, Jews in WWII), as well as other non-combatant civilians who were not on Germany’s side. The mass murder of Ottoman Armenians (between 600,000 – 1,200,000) was the largest organized massacre against a civilian minority since medieval and probably ancient times. It was carried out by the Ottomans, but the Germans broadly inspired it and did nothing to interfere with it. While there is no concrete evidence for a later account that Hitler said Germany could get away with the Jewish Holocaust because no one remembered the Armenian massacres, that seems to be what he thought.

4. Delusional Leadership. German policymakers believed that powerful forces could be set in motion by charismatic individuals, and that they were able to ignite and control wildly fanatical forces. Wilhelm exhorted his officers to “awaken the fanaticism of Islam” and Hitler of course deeply admired Islam for its militant doctrines. In both wars the policymakers erred grievously. In the first, the “jihad” proclaimed by the secular Ottoman leadership was not taken seriously in the Muslim world, and in the second, pro-Aryan Nazi doctrine (for all the creative allowances it made for Arabs and Turks) was seen by Muslims as too problematic. In both wars, Muslims became acutely aware that they were being manipulated.

5. Personnel. In the first war, Germany accumulated a large cadre of experts and soldiers who knew the Middle-East well and had extensive contacts there. About one hundred of them remained active in key positions during the Nazi era. Likewise many Middle-Eastern people who cooperated with Germany during the first war did so during the second.

Islam and Nazi Germany’s War

Islam and Nazi Germany’s War (David Motadel, 2014) is a study of how Nazi Germany used the Islamic religion to expand its influence and wage war. “Scholars have paid less attention to this phenomenon that one might imagine”, writes the author, and though I always knew of the Nazi-Islam bonding during World War II, I didn’t know nearly enough of the sordid details.

Historians usually concentrate on population groups defined by ethnicity or nationality during wars and conflicts, while religious population groups get far less attention. And in the case of World War II, some scholars either play down or deny any significance at all to the role of Islam in the war. Motadel’s book is a healthy corrective to that, and it taught me some things I was clueless about.

I had no idea, for example, that Germany’s accommodating policies with the Islamic world go way back to the late 1800s, when Imperial Germany ruled over Muslim populations in various colonies (Togo, Cameroon, German East Africa, etc). Indigenous animist religions were dismissed by the Germans as savage, but the Islamic religion was seen as enlightened. German authorities recognized sharia courts in these colonies, Islamic holidays, and allowed madrasas (Islamic schools) to stay open. Only a small minority of officials mistrusted the militant spirit of Islam and the danger of holy war. In this Germany was different from Britain, France, Holland, and Russia, who for the most part perceived pan-Islamism as a threat. In Berlin Islam was seen as an opportunity.

The Two World Wars

The opportunity was first exploited in World War I. Motadel describes how German officers were knee-deep involved with the Ottoman caliph, when he called on Muslims around the world to wage holy war against the Entente powers. The jihad, however, wasn’t a religious war in the usual Islamic sense — not “believers” vs. “infidels”, but rather a selective jihad aimed only at the Entente powers (the British, French, Montenegrins, Serbs, and Russians) — and because of that, it failed to galvanize enough Muslims to support it. What’s interesting is the degree to which the Germans pushed for the jihad (Wilhelm II exhorting his officers to “awaken the fanaticism of Islam”), and as a matter of policy to incite religious violence in the Muslim areas of the Entente colonies.

Motadel says the campaign ultimately lacked credibility in the eyes of Muslims, who knew they were being manipulated by a colonial power, and because the Young Turks (who led the Ottomans since their revolt in 1908) were too blatantly secular to take seriously:

“It was all too clear that Muslims were being employed for the strategic purposes of the Central Powers, not for a truly religious cause. The Young Turks had no religious credentials. The power of the caliphate was limited.”

Between the two world wars, Germany kept Islam in its agenda, determined to learn from the mistake of World War I. It was widely agreed that the Muslim mobilization had failed because “the Ottoman leadership had long renounced Islam”, and plenty of German literature was cranked out on the subject. Motadel cites Thomas Reichardt’s Islam at the Gates) (1939), published a few months before the beginning of World War II, which argued that, “When Islam looks at the West, it sees in democracy, in parliamentarianism, capitalism, individualism, unrestrained mechanization, and the blind belief in progress all things which it opposes.” Germany, like Japan and Italy, saw the West in similar terms.

What was unanimous in the German literature was (a) a disdain for the lack of authenticity (religiosity) of the Young Turks in World War I which killed the jihad in its crib, and (b) a belief that Muslim religious sensibilities needed respecting, as Italy and Japan did. Islam was an opportunity that couldn’t be ignored and had to be done right by this time around.

Amin al-Husayni

He became the mufti of Jerusalem in 1921, and with other Muslims worked ceaselessly for years to prepare a base for Islamism in Europe and throughout the Muslim world. He was basically the pioneer of modern Arab and Islamist politics, but tends to be misunderstood and undervalued in his role. He advocated genocide of the Jews long before the Nazi government did, and furthermore killed Hitler’s initial plan to let the Jews leave Germany and emigrate to Palestine. Al-Husayni warned Hitler that if he really wanted Muslim allies, then he had to close Europe’s exits to Jews. The mufti thus contributed directly to the Holocaust, cornering Hitler into his “final solution”. It’s quite wrong to see al-Husayni and his fellow Islamists as merely being influenced by the Nazis, as some critics do. They weren’t trying to please Hitler; they genuinely believed in the Islamic doctrine promoting hatred of Jews, and they bonded with the Nazis on the basis of common interests.

The mufti eventually settled in Berlin in 1941 at Hitler’s invitation. He wanted German support to wipe out the Jews in the Middle-East, and in return he would “wage terror” (as he put it) against the British and French. Unlike the Ottomans during the first world war, al-Husayni framed the jihad imperative in its classic religious sense, heaping curses on the Jews and exhorting all Muslims everywhere to fear Allah above all, for anyone who does not “is not a Muslim anymore”. But the jihad, and the German-Muslim alliance, ultimately failed in this war too, though for different reasons.

The Question of Ideology: Nazism and Islam

Motadel handles this whole issue well. The promotion of Islam was a strategic move for Germany (as it had been in the past), but it was only the Reich’s willingness to deal with it ideologically that made that move possible. “After all,” says Motadel, “The Third Reich was an ideological state and Second World War an ideological war. Ideology mattered.” And ideology was easier to deal with than ethnicity.


The Nazi regime was pragmatic on the issue of race — making allowances for Turks, Arabs, and Iranians — but this required a bit of backpedaling on the Fuhrer’s views of Aryan supremacy. Dr. Walter Gross (who ran the Office of Racial Policy) wrote (in 1944) that “National Socialist race theory in fact recognizes Arabs as members of a high-grade race, which looks back on a glorious and heroic history.” Others like him insisted that the Reich was “anti-Jewish/Judaic” (which it was) but not “anti-Semitic” (though it was obviously this too), catering to the common understanding that Arabs were “Semites”.

Others, following Gross, insisted that German race theory wasn’t directed at other peoples aside from the Jews, while insisting that the racial mixing between Germans and Turks/Arabs/Iranians (especially as more Muslims were deployed in the Reich) had to be avoided for the benefit of both peoples. Muslims were “racially valuable”, and yet their bloodstream was different from the Germans and had to be kept separate. Hitler went so far as to call the mufti al-Husayni an Aryan (on the basis of his blond hair and blue eyes), and had the physician Pierre Schrumpf confirm his judgment: Schrumpf gave the mufti a six-hour medical examination, and officially proclaimed al-Husayni to be a Circassian, and thus a Caucasian.

Hitler and his propagandists, in other words, fumbled over issues of race, trying to uphold white supremacy in “Muslim-friendly” ways.


There was no awkward fumbling when it came to ideology. Religion has nothing to do with race, after all (though many people today don’t get this), and Hitler and his Reichsführer (Himmler) revered the doctrines of Islam. Himmler believed that Muhammad was one of the greatest men in history and had in his collection many books on Islam and the Prophet. He esteemed Islam as a masculine soldierly religion:

“Mohammed knew that most people are terribly cowardly and stupid. That is why he promised every warrior who fights courageously and falls in battle two beautiful women. This kind of language a soldier understands. When he believes that he will be welcomed in this manner in the afterlife, he will be willing to give his life; he will be enthusiastic about going into battle and not fear death. You may call this primitive and laugh about it, but it is based on deeper wisdom.”

Himmler got on well with mufti al-Husayni, who after the war was impressed by Himmler’s “intelligence and breadth of knowledge”. And Himmler’s views of Islam were shared by others, like his right-hand Gottlob Berger.

As for Hitler, he repeatedly devalued Christianity while extolling Islam. Christianity was soft, artificial, and weak; Islam was a strong and a practical faith, and much more suited to the Germanic spirit. In the table talks he expressed regret over the victory of Charles Martel in 732 CE, saying that if Martel hadn’t been victorious, then the Germans would have been converted to Islam, which would have allowed the Germanic races to conquered the world. Motadel cites Albert Speer, who remembers Hitler saying thus:

“Had the Arabs won this battle [against Charles Martel in 732] the world would be Mohammedan today. For theirs is a religion that believes in spreading the faith by the sword and subjugating all nations to that faith. The Germanic peoples would have become heirs to that religion. Such a creed was perfectly suited to the Germanic temperament. Hitler said that the conquering Arabs, because of their racial inferiority, would in the long run have been unable to contend with the harsher climate and conditions of the country. Ultimately not Arabs but Islamized Germans could have stood at the head of the Mohammedan Empire.”

Thus again, the importance of distinguishing beliefs/doctrines from cultures/peoples. Hitler believed Islam was a superior religion, but that its Arab adherents were an inferior race. That second part was a problem for the Reich, no matter how diligently their propaganda machines tried papering over it.

The Failure of a Reich-Muslim Alliance

For all the Reich leaders’ ideological passion, it evidently rang hollow on its hearers. Whether Muslims were under German rule, behind the front lines, or deployed in German military units, “it was all too obvious that the Germans wanted to instrumentalize Muslims for their interests and war necessities rather than for a truly religious cause.” The Reich’s hypocrisies — its mixed messages on race and ethnicity, if not religion and ideology — and ultimately its attempts to bond with Muslims over a religious cause lacked credibility.

The other reason offered by Motadel for the failure of a WWII German-Muslim alliance is that Germany respected Italy and its imperial interests too much. Italy may have patronized Islam like Japan did, but Muslims resented Italians for their colonial oppressive measures even more than they hated the British and the French. Ultimately Muslims saw Germans as complicit in Italian oppression.


Islam and Nazi Germany’s War taught me some things I was oblivious to, and the research behind it is impeccable. I’m not surprised it won the Wiener Library Ernst Fraenkel prize. I was drawn to reading it over the recent unpleasant revelation of M.A.R. Barker. Barker was a convert to Islam who designed the brilliant RPG Empire of the Petal Rose, and then later became a pro-Nazi and Holocaust denier. Empire of the Petal Rose was the first role-playing game (released in 1974) not based on a European/white setting, and the fantasy world (Tekumel) has Asian-type cultures. It may be hard to wrap our heads around someone like Barker turning militant-white-supremacist, but then ideology and ethnicity are different things. Love for doctrines doesn’t necessarily imply love for whatever peoples happen to embrace those doctrines. And Barker was an American convert to Islam, not a native of Asia or the Middle-East.


Update: See more here, for the parallels between Wilhelm and Hitler in the two world wars.

Inspiring Covers

Here’s a collection of covers I find particularly inspiring. Most of them aren’t catalogued covers you can purchase for download; they’ve been uploaded to Youtube (click on the links) by talented artists who could use some appreciation.

1. When the Levee Breaks, covered by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin and artists from around the globe, 2022 (Original artist: Led Zeppelin, 1971, and before that, Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy, 1929). This is part of Playing For Change’s Song Around the World campaign, and what better song to raise awareness for climate justice. It may very well be the best cover I’ve ever heard.

2. Losing It, covered by Brody Dolyniuk and Nina DiGregorio, 2020 (Original artist: Rush, 1982). I often lose it when hearing this song anyway (some days I think it’s my favorite Rush song), and as a tribute to Neal Peart it has extra power. The cover is simply flawless, and the woman on the violin especially nailed it.

3. Don’t Stop Believin’, covered by Halocene, Violet Orlandi, Lauren Babic, and Audra Miller, 2021 (Original artist: Journey, 1981). It’s been played to death (it became the first catalog track to sell more than 2 million downloads in 2008) that a cover might seem trite, but I have to hand it to this gang, they really, really put more soul into it than Steve Perry and Co. did. They performed this after a year of Covid, and let’s face it, it’s exactly the song we all needed to keep going.

4. Breaking the Habit, covered by The Broken View, 2020 (Original artist: Linkin Park, 2003). Starting this one soft works wonders. It builds to a crescendo with all the rage and pain to match Linkin Park’s, and I think this band may have even surpassed Park’s original.

5. Zombie, covered by Bad Wolves, 2018 (Original artist: The Cranberries, 1994). Some Cranberries fans objected to this band for releasing it too soon after Dolores’ death, but I thought it was a splendid tribute, and still do.

6. In the New Year, covered by Halley O’Malley, 2015 (Original artist: The Walkmen, 2008). “In the New Year” is one of those harsh-sounding songs that ratchets up the tension each round, and it’s probably impossible to do justice with a literal cover. This more subdued approach gets it almost just as good.

7. Take on Me, covered by Calpurnia, 2019 (Original artist: A-ha, 1985). An iconic ’80s song given a work-over by Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard’s band.

8. Here is the House, covered by Saga, 2012 (Original artist: Depeche Mode, 1986). It’s an instrumental cover that I sometimes put on replay when writing horror fiction. Stirs the imagination just right.

9. Let’s Go, covered by Double Life, 2020 (Original artist: The Cars, 1979). My final two are for nostalgia sake. I was obsessed with the Cars in my youth, and while I don’t care much for them anymore, I have to admit this cover of “Let’s Go” works a certain magic.

10. Shadows of the Night, covered by Project Kylex, 2017 (Original artist: Pat Benatar, 1982). This cover is by a 10 and 11-year old, but they do a hell of a good job, and I include it since “Shadows of the Night” was essentially the song that got me listening to radio as a kid, and exploring different sorts of music I hadn’t known existed until that point in my life.