The Holy of Holies: 
On the Constituents of Emptiness 

Mitchell Stephens     Professor of Journalism     New York University

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Dave says:

It might be worth mentioning here that Biblical scholars usually interpret the golden calf story as propaganda against the rival temple at Dan, in which the spirit of Yahweh rested not on gold cherubim but on a golden bull. And this notion of an iconoclast smashing the tablets, whose second commandment was against graven images, contans an irony which was probably intended.

DCM says:

Yet ironically it was still a predominantly oral culture in which orality played a larger part in interpreting the texts, from the histories through the prophets and into the rabbinic teachings. Not “of the book” in modern sense, it seems.

amy says:

Need to credit Tacitus for setting up this drama.

“deracination, delocalization, disincarnation, formalization, universalizing schematization, objectification and telecommunication”
Is this a emptying of the holy, or just a change into a new religion?

Great essay, better if you read it in context: Kant’s “Religion Within the Limits of Pure Reason” and Bergson’s “Two Sources of Morality and Religion.”

arthur s. hayes says:

” So, though it may not have been obvious at the time, the Holy of Holies Pompey entered had been emptied, in part, by film, the press, television and the Internet.”

Perhaps I am not thinking abstractly, but the above conceit undermines your point. Would it not be more appropriate to say “as if” instead of “in part.”

James says:

Certainly there is a comparison to be made between the cultural impacts of being incorporated into the Roman imperium and today’s technological globalization, but don’t we need a bit more than this metaphor. It’s clever, but I’d like to see this unpacked.

James says:

What’s the evidence for these attitudes and behaviors. If all we have is one sentence from Tacitus then isn’t this just speculation?

mcvicker says:

Agree, the momentum you’ve been building the last few sections finds powerful, resonant fruition here. Establishing a link between the anthropologists’ desire to take back trophy artefacts — i.e., deracinate, delocalize, objectify, disincarnate; to turn living culture into dead objects — and Pompey’s desire to take the Jews’ holiest ‘x’ back to Rome for display is brilliant. Somehow, though, the last sentence as phrased risks taking all these densely layered, intertextual ideas and stripping them down to one level of thinking…

Noah SD says:

Good section.

I think it would be interesting to look at this from a sort of survival of the abstractest standpoint. You could argue that the only religions that survive are like this.

Jay says:

Mitch, Pompey’s story is, metaphorically, a bit autobiographical, no? “Modern heir of Jewish culture looks into the superstitions of man.” Aren’t you trying to set the record straight about what is real? Trouble is, like the God here, you have to use words, words defined by the culture you are attempting to set straight, to accomplish that impossible task.