Friday, August 28, 2015

Creative Destruction

Creative destruction. That's what happens when new technology effectively kills off tried and true ways of doing things, yet brings about new opportunities – that sometimes even allow us to make a dent in the universe.

I'm a professor at the second largest university in the United States. Pretty cool gig, right? But not when you watch your classes, some of the most popular on campus, dwindle in enrollment to just a handful. Why? Because with the dawn of online learning, students started abandoning my classes for anything taught on the web. And I taught face-to-face. I had to adapt, and fast. So I got myself certified in online teaching, and jumped into an amazing new “market.”

The immediate problem that arose was, how am I going to distinguish myself from everybody else, who just assign texts to read and assignments to turn in? Boring… Major-league boring. I asked myself: what do I do that really works? Why were my classes ever popular to begin with? Well, everybody seems to like my lectures, which weren't just lectures, but often semi-theatrical presentations. 

Then I realized that the university has a full television studio, with state of the art cameras, a teleprompter, a green screen, and a full editing suite. I can't imagine what it cost the taxpayers. And nobody's using it! So I teamed up with the videographer and editor-in-chief, and began to bring my lectures to life. Among other things, I teach the history of the Holocaust – a pretty depressing topic. But rather than just talking about various characters in the sad saga, why not bring them to life, with some costuming, some acting, and a good dose of chutzpah? Let's make television!

A year later, the creative side of the destruction is taking off, and I now have a record enrollment (sixty-five!) in a class that was struggling for survival the last time I taught it. Every week I magically “zap in” another character, who can be placed in front of any background in the world via the green screen. Online teaching will never be the same…

Check out a brief segment from one of my character impersonations (complete with feigned Polish accent). Meet Abba Kovner, a dynamic Jewish ghetto fighter during the darkest days of the Holocaust. Here he is at the end of the tragedy, issuing a warning, that the threat of genocide didn't end with the death of Hitler. There is a new “slaughtering knife” that waits in ambush for the Jewish people. When we look around at the world today, at Iran and even continental Europe, where it’s once again dangerous to be Jewish, he nailed it, didn't he?

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Meet the Visionaries

It’s time we meet the “Visionaries,” a group identified by contemporary scholars, believed to have come into focus over 2,500 years ago, in the sixth century, B.C. The Israelites have spent seventy long years in exile, in faraway Babylon. It is in exile that they have learned a new kind of spirituality, schooled in suffering and deprivation. They have waited for the opportunity to return, one day, to their ruined city of Jerusalem and their destroyed Temple. Their dreams are at last realized when a great Persian emperor named Cyrus comes to power. He issues a historic edict allowing his Jewish subjects to come home and rebuild their capital and the sacred shrine they have so long revered. 
The monarchy established centuries before by King David and his son Solomon has long vanished, so the returnees are led by their priests, who serve as de-facto rulers. While the goal of restoring their homeland is noble, it soon becomes clear that they represent a new “ruling class,” an upper-class priestly hierarchy who are “in cahoots” with the Persians. In tension with this new “theocracy,” a grassroots movement spontaneously appears, united by a purer vision of what a restored Jerusalem and rebuilt Temple should resemble. They are the Visionaries, and, according to the theory, they are responsible for some of the most profound depictions of otherworldly encounters ever recorded. They are “anti-establishment” folk, meeting together in secret groups that cultivate spirituality. 

They feel alienated, deprived and marginalized by their own national and religious leaders, but that’s exactly what fuels their passion. Oddly enough, the bulk of the people are strangely drawn to them, as they begin to methodically record their visionary experiences, in the tradition of the great prophets (such as Isaiah and Jeremiah) of bygone days. The movement they begin will last for centuries and will cultivate scores of otherworldly encounters, recorded in books such as Enoch and Jubilees, and in the Dead Sea Scrolls, that were for whatever reason (perhaps because of the sensational visions they relate) systematically banned from the Bible. 
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Friday, August 21, 2015

The Paranormal Bible

We’ve all heard of “altered states” – of people in modern culture who have profound metaphysical experiences of one kind or another, ranging from out-of-body experiences to UFO encounters. But let’s “flash back” to biblical days. How many people in ancient times experienced “other levels” of consciousness? If such experiences occur in today’s world, doesn’t it stand to reason that people long ago would have recorded similar phenomena? In truth the ancients had just as many paranormal experiences as modern people, but they were recorded in texts that were systematically excluded from the Bible – precisely because they were “paranormal.” So I ask, what would the Bible look like if we put them back in? Unfortunately, today’s academicians don’t communicate very well across disciplines, so textual scholars aren’t even allowed to ask what experiences ancient authors had that might have been similar to paranormal phenomena across the centuries and down to the present. The next question is, who were these ancient authors?
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Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Visionaries

How did a trained scholar of ancient Hebrew literature and a Dead Sea Scrolls specialist get involved with research on ancient aliens? Answer: I found myself dragged into it, kicking and screaming. Some time ago, I was being interviewed on a nationally syndicated radio show when the host asked me whether I thought some of the ancient texts I deal with have anything to do with alien visitation. Inexplicably, I found myself answering that from a Jewish perspective: it's actually easier to talk about to talk about “space aliens” than it is to believe in various and sundry supernatural entities, including Satan and an assorted host of angels and demons. This is because Judaism as a faith is strictly monotheistic, and from time immemorial has been wary of focusing on intermediary beings between God and humankind. If we start paying too much attention to angels and demons, God forbid, people might start worshiping them instead of the Almighty.