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tv   Karen Armstrong The Lost Art of Scripture  CSPAN  December 25, 2019 9:50am-11:01am EST

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can see yourself in many many different-- many different places and in many different figures and so, identity is not just being black. >> after words airs saturday at 10 p.m. and sunday's at 9 p.m., on book tv on c-span2. all previous after words are available as podcasts and available to watch on-line at book [applaus [applause] >> thank you very much. and welcome. good evening. i am the literary director for the library and it's a joy to our community here this evening. how many of you are at the library for the first time tonight? all right. well, double welcome to you. and have any of you attended the library of congress's
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flagship book festival? nice, like to see that. welcome b welcome back. and how many of you have attended one of those, national book festival presents? good, thank you, we like you so much. well, welcome to the library of congress's national book festival presents, a vibrant new series of programs inspired by the national book festival and meant to bring you into the heart of this historic dynamic institution, the library of congress, your national library. this is a brand new effort through which we hope to spark conversations, engauge, inspire and entertain you with some of the most perverse, provocative writers of the day. in every program that we put before you, say from the children's writer dave pilkey
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to a conversation with a haitian, wonderful literary novelist, to the program you've come to hear tonight, we mean to connect the works of living writers to a larger history, a deeper understanding. we delight in makes those connections for you and we delight in provoking the kind of exchanges that make all of us more informed and mindful citizens. you're part of that collective mission by being here tonight. thank you for joining us and thank you for helping us carry this torch. i hope you've taken a home town to take a look at the display of religious texts, the curator put out for you next door and perhaps you've taken a tour of some of the library's vast holdings that will make tonight's conversations come alive for you. so we tried to incorporate these features in every program and we want you to experience
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the depth and breadth of this library, of your library, but to cut to the task at hand, i'm thrilled to be standing here to introduce one of the world's great minds on spiritual studies, a writer and scholar who helped contribute richly to our understanding of faith, scripture and the history of rereligions around the globe. she's karen armstrong, united states alliance of civilizations and the event you don't know what that alliance is, it's a dedicated and ambitious body that mounts actions, internationally against any form of extremism. karen armstrong would like to make the world talk to one another. it's an alliance that nutures communication and strives to diffuse tensions for those who protest different faith. she's one of the forces for charter of compassion, a
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campaign that she began about ten years ago, after she won the prize. the charter for compassion is a publicly created document in more than 30 languages that urges the peoples and religions of the world to embrace compassion, so fundamental to many of the world's poor belief no matter what your religion. karen armstrong began her career as a religious sister, a member of the roman catholic sisters of the holy child in england, from which she separated when she enrolled in studies in st. ann's college in oxford to study english literature. she has been a teacher, a writer, a television personality on relation issues, always and above all, she has been an explainer, a connector. the lesson throughout in her new book, the lost art of scripture is that the world's major faith and religions have
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more in common than you might think. the differences over which wars have been fought and the heart hatreds that have been made harder are, if you study the scripture, are actually very few and surmountable. it's a hopeful message. karen armstrong is the author of the best selling history of god. she has given up consistently brilliant, deeply researched and thoughtful work, wrong them "through the narrow gates", "tongues of fire", "holy war" about the crusades, "buddha", "faith after 11 september", and my own favorite, gripping memoir "the spiral staircase, my climb out of darkness" and now this important work "the lost scripture" where faith resides in our brains and our
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hearts. it is, in sort, an examination of the way sacred texts have been co-opted by hardliners who sin insist they should be taken at their word when she ar dwus so well, sacred text are works of art. roads to a higher consciousness, they were never meant to be rigid and unbending, written in stone. she's here to tell us about this clarifying work of history in a time of intolerance and mutual income hence, her voice is at once, a comfort and a clarion call. at the end of her talk, we will take your questions, i hope you will formulate them, as she speaks to you. please help me welcome, the prodigiously talented writer and thinker, karen armstrong.
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[applaus [applause] >> that's a wonderful welcome. thank you. oh. so, why is scripture a lost art? well, first of all let's think if you're reading a book like "pride and prejudice", you're not astonished or even dismayed to hear that mr. darcy or mr. bingley never existed. [inaudible] we're reading scripture in a very factual way.
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we're with factual people in the early modern period, we started turning, in europe and over here in the united states, towards reason, logic, enlightenment, all of these things, science particularly have done wonderful things for the world, but it's no good reading scripture or say the stories of scripture as though they were factual, any more than bride and prejudice is, before about the 18th century, it was impossible to write history as we know it today. because it's only since the 18th century where we started to learn about ancient cultures, we learned to develop the science of archeology and learned how to decipher ancient
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languages as if we could recreate the world of the past. as human beings, as perhaps the older members of the audience will agree with me, it's more natural for us to forget, rather than to remember. [laughter] >> and scripture tells us what we should remember, and it does so in a way that brings out the reasons why we should remember these texts and the stories of scriptures, what they mean rather than what actually happened. now i've got only a few minutes to talk and it's quite a fat book as you see. so i thought i would focus on just three things about what's, how we misinterpret scriptures, the lost art. ...
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the quran means recitation, and muslims don't read the text as we do even when their learning it by heart they don't learn it from the text. it's recited to them and they learned that way. as a catholic child i -- the gregorian chant and the whole cadences of that chant. but we never read the bible much.
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much. it was always done in the setting of music and also acted out. because we learn things are more with our bodies than with our minds. we learn more about human nature and the world through movement and gesture. i'm told people, if some of his talk and use a lot of gestures people will believe the gesture rather than the words. because the body doesn't lie so much. but i'm going to take three different things, and the first one is that scripture tells us what we must believe, that it gives us truth, that we must accept. it's a very odd idea. it came in rather late, roundabout the time of the protestant reformation. and you remember that it was
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said famously that a poor man armed with scripture can learn as much about the faith that any hope or bishop. give everybody the bible and they will be fine. well, that didn't work because as a reformer soon found, they couldn't agree with one another about what scripture said, even on absolutely fundamental matters like the eucharist. it was so disturbing that from the beginning the protestant movement was split. scripture is full of -- it is not teaching us anything. how can it, because it is talking about reality, we call it god over here, in india they
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called it the -- and that means the all or it is everything that is. it's reality itself. you can't define it, a word which literally means from the latin root, to set limits upon something. you can't limit god. as a catholic child at the age of eight, i learned my catechism. one of the questions was what is god? and in a single sentence we had him some up. god is the supreme spirit who alone exists of himself and is infinite in all perfections. well at eight i have to say that left me rather cold. i now think it's quite entirely incorrect.
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come because it takes, first of all it takes it for granted you can simply draw a a breath and define a word, as i said that means to set limits upon a reality that is in illimitable, that cannot be grasped. and for the more who alone exists of himself thomas aquinas before the modern. probably summed up european thought in his great feel logic said god is not one of the things that exists. all things that we know exist are very temporary. they come and they go. they fail. they are feeble. god is being itself. that force of life. and it is certainly not a he. it tells you nothing about god,
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and neither does the bible. we fully got a little while. i just want to take one scripture that you probably, many of you will know, the book of genesis. in chapter one one the famous chapter one, we have a portrait of god. everything a god should be. there he is in total control, and totally powerful. simply has to speak and it comes into being. unlike other creation stories which the bible also includes, god doesn't have to fight any terrible monsters, sea monsters in order -- creation is no great struggle for him and he speaks and it is done. and god is totally good and
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fair. at the end of every day he is very benign. he blesses everything that he has made and says it is good. even his old enemy the sea monster that in other stories he is supposed to have destroyed, he blesses him and the two are made peaceful. now, the rest of the book of genesis systematically undercuts that nice picture of god. [laughing] by the end of chapter three, the god who is in total control of his creation, has lost control. can't manage them all, human beings, they are on their own. the god who was so benign becomes a cruel destroyer in the time of the flood. in the fit of what we can only
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call peak, he decides to destroy the whole human race. he say no and his family, wonders why assumes no a get out of the art he gets a drunk and commits at some horrible sexual act. but he wipes out the entire world so much for the benign god. and the god who is completely impartial in chapter one, lessing all that he has made, has monstrous favorites here he is endlessly choosing one person after another, for no good reason as far as we can see. cain and abel, kane comes embraces sacrifice. god says no. he takes abels sacrifice. no reason at all.
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when hebrew tells us that his face crumples like a face of a child when it is shocked by something, and you're the first murder when he kills his brother, abel. when he goes on as god does, he chooses jacob rather than the soul, the older twin. you are made to feel the pain of the rejected one. have you no blessing for me, father? he cries in despair. father bless me, too. i cannot do it. and hagar just dumped in the desert with her baby son by abraham and god's command to face almost certain death. this is not the benign god we
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think. and at the end of the book of genesis, god was continually biting it and intervening and appearing at advising, disappears from the world. and joseph and his brothers have to struggle with their own insights and dreams, just as we do. and that image of god has been steadily undercut because this is the world that we know. this is a world where people do die in terrible, senseless disasters, natural disasters. this this is a world that is not fair. none of those people that he is chosen is particularly good or better than the other, and yet they are the ones that prosper and get the blessing, and that is what we see always. we are left at the end wondering what is this god? and notice when later on moses meets god in the burning bush
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and says what is your name? because to know the name of someone gives you power over them. god says, in hebrew, i am what i am. that's been translated to say god is saying his self subsistence being. but this is their early hebrew and it didn't have that kind of metaphysical thought in those -- they had developed a metaphysical tradition. it's the phrase used in hebrew of deliberate vagueness, but when you say, the bible will say they went where they went. it means i don't know where they went. [laughing] what god is saying is basically mind your own business. don't ask me. and similarly he chooses moses to speak for him pick moses says to them look, god, why are you
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choosing the? ever sense a child i've had this terrible speech impediment and no one can hear a word i say. and god says never mind, arab will speak for you, your brother was big for you. so we're only getting what god has said to moses is secondhand and you wonder really how much moses has understood. and furthermore, it is erin, the speaker who is guilty of idolatry, because it's his idea that the israelites worship god in the form of a golden calf. narrowing god down to a single image, and moses, he still prefers moses who cannot speak
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because god is unspeakable. and the scripture begins the tao that can remain is not the eternal tao. you can say what god -- you can say what the hell is. that is not the tao. if you can see what it is, it's like -- in the catholic catechism. that's not god at all. and so heaven does not speak of confucius, of the highest reality in confucianism. heaven does not speak. we just get glimpses of what we can see. in one of the taoist scriptures, confucius nephew is supposed to say i sit quietly and forget.
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i forget everything i've been told. not building up all this knowledge about god. so scripture is not telling us what we should believe. it is rather opening our minds and hearts to the fact that what, we speak about god we do not know what we're talking about. it's -- the dao that can be name is that the eternal dao. very early in the tenth century, the priests of india, ancient india, used to have competition and they would go off into the wilderness and they would fast and pray and then they would come together. the indians loved competitions. the object of it was to find a word that some of what i mentioned earlier, the all, everything that is. the first priest, the
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challenger, drawing on all these huge learning and his mystical experience would come out with a phrase that he thought, what summed up the all pure and the of priests would have to reply, build upon that and reply. but the priest who won the competition was the one who reduced them all to silence. and in that silence, he was present. the brahman was not present in the learned declarations, but in the sudden realization of the impotence of speech when you face the divine. and so when we go, why did we have catechisms in the first place? because after the reformists found they couldn't agree themselves upon scripture, they
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said there was no thought of letting ordinary people read the bible anymore. that was clearly out, and so they had to have catechisms instead, both the catholic leaders and the protestants did this. so you have, so you would approach the scriptures through a set of catechism on theological answers devised by human beings like that, what is god, and not the model of scripture. one of india's favorite scriptures is a story, a terrible story of an appalling war. it's hard to see any light or glimmer of hope in it at all, even at the very end when they heroes all go to heaven. it's not clear it is a heaven at all actually. you are not left wondering whether heaven exists, and certainly left the input data t
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what the god's are up to and yet that is one of india's best love scriptures because instead of giving us answers, it plunges us into obscurity, get rid of your catechisms and oppose, let yourself see the ambiguity of scripture. okay, point number two. scripture does not expect us to go back to the original meaning of the text. in modern scholarship that's what we do, isn't it? we go back to like the earliest accounts of something or the earliest version of a story or something. go back to the original text. that's the protestants reformers wanted to do. they wanted to go back to the early church to reproduce the early church. there's a problem about that because they were men and women
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of the early modern period, that the first century of christianity. it's impossible for us to go back, especially as all the first christians were jews who had an entirely different view of scripture. we are still doing that today, and sometimes in very distorted forms. you've got in saudi arabia, for example, the one hobbies who reproduce a lot of seventh century customs and mores. going back to what the prophets have done at that time, but they are not meet the women of seventh century. there are even fundamentalists in this country who have suggested that they revive the old hebrew legislation which would include the selling of disobedient children.
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we are not programmed to do this. scripture, in every scripture tradition that i studied, and i found this out -- i didn't know this at the beginning of my research. it insists that you move forward and apply it to the present. invent it if you like. the jewish people, after they lost the temple which was destroyed by the romans in the year 70, could not read the old hebrew text in the same way. because the whole of that spirituality centered around the temple and there's a terrible whole right in the heart of the scripture. but they didn't just chuck it out. they develop something called midrash, which means, comes from a verb which means to go in search of something. so you would take -- someone to come to one of the rapids and asking the question and if you
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would answer it by taking a verse from the book of psalms, say, what another first from one of the prophets and perhaps another from the book of genesis, text that have no relation to one another, one loop altogether and there you have an answer that answers this particular question. and so it was inventive, and there was -- this form, midrash was invented and affected by the great rabbi who died, he was killed by the romans in the early second century. there was a story told about him that same of his brilliance was so great that it reached heaven, and moses got to hear about this, and he was intrigued. he wanted to find out what was happening so he came down to
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earth and tended the rabbis scripture class and he sat in the back row among, at the very back. but found to his intense embarrassment that he couldn't understand a word of the torah that the rabbi was expounding. a torque that it been revealed to him on mount sinai. but instead of being missed about it he goes back to heaven shaking his head probably rather like a proud father saying my children have defeated me but they have grown up. it can't be on me. one rabbi put it this way. he said that every time -- that which was not revealed to moses was revealed to the rabbi and his generation. scripture revelation was something that happened once in the distant past. it was present when ever a jewish student with his teacher
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confronted the sacred text and found something new in it. and in the early versions, there would be a page on which the student must imbibe his own thoughts, his own discoveries. he would be -- so imagine, he and his master were standing together on mount sinai with moses and taking the revelation further because revelation was that something had happened once in the past. it happened every time a jew confronted the sacred texts. and the new testament, the writers of the new testament, matthew, mark and luke particularly, have formed the own kind of midrash. theirs is a a little different, more like the sectarians by the dead sea which saw their own movement predicted in the past.
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and matthew, for example, never misses a chance of taking a bit from the old testament, as they called it, and applying it to jesus. he quotes the prophet and says i took my son out of egypt. obviously hosea was talking about the exodus of egypt with moses. but no, matthew applies it to the baby jesus who was forced to flee inherited, but when things died down he came back to palestine and he was born out of egypt. that's one example. there's one story in the gospel of luke, second century, early second century which shows how this works. this wasn't just a clever stunt. it was profoundly a motive. after the crucifixion, two
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disciples, distraught, they thought jesus was going to be the messiah and he died his terrible death. leaving jerusalem and going to the nearby village, and they are sad and distressed obviously, as a stranger approaches that says look, you're upset. is anything i can do to help? i'm always relieved that the disciples were not sort of this upper lip brits, the weight of replied no, we're fine. and that would've been the end of the story. but they felt vulnerable and this stranger laughed at them but they say we thought jesus was the messiah look what happened. he said -- starting with moses, he goes through all the scriptures showing how it applies to jesus and predicted his crucifixion.
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the scripture doesn't say nothing of the sort. this is more inventive midrash pickup in him and you know the end of the story. they had supper together when the stranger breaks the bread they see that it is jesus and he disappears. they say, this is important bit, did not our hearts burn with dennis writes the hearts swelled with joy and this was an insightful thing, not just a cerebral cleverness. and that, luke is say, how we will see jesus today, in the breaking of bread in this inventive scripture here when we reached out towards a stranger for help. so it's some all up, he says that every time, 12th century, wonderful jewish -- every time
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you recite a piece from the koran, it should mean something different to you. and if it doesn't mean something different to you, you are not reciting it correctly. because you are not sufficiently in the moment, to say what you were going to do. finally, i'm looking at the time, there's a lot of spirituality today that is all about -- i'm not condemning any of this but yoga, for example, it's not designed as a sort of aerobic exercise. it was designed to get rid of that selfish thing, part of us that always turns everything towards ourselves and is always thinking about ourselves. let the ego go. similarly, mindfulness, the
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buddha design mindfulness to practice it not to feel more centered in the cells because their cells did not exist. the self is a fiction. it has no reality. and so there's a scripture is not about me. it can just tell us about our own private internal spirituality or relationship with god. it must pursue action. the story about the buddha. we often see him, that we, lost in concentration in transit. he did get a lot of yoga but there's a story about it in the scriptures that when he had achieved enlightenment he was basking in this newfound peace, and inconvenient thought
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occurred to him that perhaps he should teach other people about how to do this. he thought well, , i'm not going to do that because it's very difficult. it means you got to let the eagle go, and most people are just not going to be interested in that. i'm not going to do it. at which point the highest god in the highest of heavens gave a terrible cry and he said that the world is lost. the world is utterly lost and he dissents from heaven and the god kneels before the enlightened man and he says lord, please preach your message. look at the world, and buddha looked at the world with an eye of a a buddha and saw the painf the world and spent the next 40 years, we never see this but it's in the scriptures, trampling around the towns and villages of india helping people to deal with the suffering and to overcome, the way to overcome
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it. this is all scriptures tell us to act. later, he would tell his monks to do the same. after achieving enlightenment you must go back to the marketplace, immerse yourself in the pain in order to assuage it. you have a job to do. this outward turning was crucial. confucius thought further. they said don't wait until you achieve enlightenment. you will gain enlightenment by helping other people because again, , it helps you to put yourself to one side. the gospels are full of it, too. when the kingdom comes to earth,
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those who get into the kingdom, jesus says, are not those who will cry lord, , lord, and say e prayers nicely. what i was hungry, you gave me to eat. thirsty, he gave me to eat. sick, in prison and you visited me. the reaching out to the suffering of the world. and sometimes you go to church, sing a few hands and then go home to lunch, and that's the end of it -- a few hymns. at the end of the mass, i don't know what to do now but the priest would say go, you are set forth. it did mean go home to lunch. it meant, he met you are now to go and immerse yourself in the pain of the world. and the want to end with the confucian vision of how that should be done. because i think it's very
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appetite to our polarized and unequal world today. he said you learn compassion, the confucians say, and that meant the golden rule. confucius was one of the first people to enunciate the golden rule. his disciples asked him, , mast, which is the teachings can we put into practice all day and everyday? what's the single thread that runs through all your teachings? and he said, likening to the self. look into your own heart, discover what gives you pain, and then refuse under any circumstance whatsoever to inflict that pain on anybody else. and you do not just when you feel like it but all day and every day. and that means all the in everyday you are putting yourself in the position of another, and that's how you gain
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enlightenment. anyway, you start, the confucians would say later, in the family. that's where you learn compassion, now to live with other people in relation to the family. you can't go put the world right if your own family is in disarray but it can start with summit. you move out to the next circle, the city in which you dwell. and look, , ask yourself how may people are living in the streets this year? in london, for example, where i come from, rich city, 25% of the population are living in poverty. we should be going out to that. then the third circle, to move out into the whole country. but finally to the whole world. and the whole world is now, we are so globally small, linked
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together as never before, unable to get away from one another, yet we are retreating into nationalistic ghettos like brexit. moving away from the fact that we have that outward reach towards the whole world. so that's what the scriptures are saying. not focus and sing a few hymns. not too slavishly find out what scripture said 500 years, even 1000 years ago. what is it saying to you now? how will it heal the moment now? and remember, it will tell you nothing about god. it will make you realize that when, before the divine, youth, to the end of what words and
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thoughts can do. thank you. [applause] >> thank you thank you so much. that's extraordinarily illuminating and inspiring talk, doctor armstrong. thank you so much. we will have a question and with the audience, but i have a little surprise. and i'm going to ask my colleague, what of the great curators of this library, to present it. mark? >> hello. >> hello, again. >> hello, everyone. you will recall you came through and at opportunity to show you some sacred text. those of us who are fans of yours know we have been on this journey for many a book in which
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we learn the sacred text changes over time and place, both in terms of use and meaning. whether it be in our case from our collection of 14 century hungarian manuscript of the bible, to the printing of the gutenberg bible in 1454, to the printing of the king james bible 1611 and beyond, sacred text has always been in flux. however, there's one aspect of material that we showed you today which is a constant, true, and even as far back as the 15 century was real, and that is jerusalem. and so whether it comes from blackbox pilgrimage to jerusalem in the 14 '70s and '80s, or to this, the image of jerusalem from the nuremberg chronicle in
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1493. jerusalem has remained as the center and image of truth and reality, while all the rest of the world was displayed in fiction and fantasy, jerusalem was always portrayed realistically. so as he remembers a good time with us today, i'd like to give you jerusalem. >> thank you. [applause] >> thank you. >> it's so wonderful when we can connect what we have in this vast library with something that you just said. so that's a thrill for us. we will now take questions. should we raise the house lights so that we can see one another? questions for dr. armstrong.
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we have microphones floating through the room and they will be happy to hand you a microphone and give you a voice. >> thank you for your talk. do you think humanity has finished writing scripture? do you see as creating more scripture? >> i think, well, one of the interesting things that my editor in new york asked me to do when he read the first draft of my new book, he said, you know, you say that scripture starts going off when we start getting all analytical and scientific about things. and get scripture is an art form. perhaps the artists who at that time were writing scriptures
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better. and i had fun with this and i was right. he said why don't you include some? so i did -- first of all, militants paradise lost. now, militants god is a disaster, really that is the god of the catechism. going on about foreordained and pre-this entry that, utterly boring. but satan is a triumph. because what he's doing is rescuing goodness. milton was a calvinist but he did not agree with calvin, the calvinist doctrine of predestination, , that when you are born your predestined to go to hell or to heaven. this is a disgusting view of god, and it was really torture.
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people were having breakdowns and satan had become an absolute monstrous evil. we know that milton read hebrew. he was one of the few people who were allowed to read scriptures because the reformists said you could only read scripture if you could read in the original languages which would put most of us out, greek and hebrew. and he read, and on the last day of creation, the rabbis notice that god instead of saint it is good, he said it is very good. why? because, said the rabbis, on that day god created the evil inclination in human beings because we are the only evil beings in the world. animals are not evil. we had these big brains that make us do evil. but is the evil inclination good asked the rabbis?
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yes, they said. because without it a a man woud not marry a wife or engage in trade, for example. the sexual instinct is good, but it can be easily perverted and become hurtful and harmful and dangerous point and in trade, which the rabbis are very keen on, you, you have to win and put other people out of business. without it are a mixture of good and evil and that's what satan is. satan is a human being, he's made evil human. there's one passage in milton paradise lost where he sees eve for the first time before she has fallen, and he becomes, milton said, stupidly good. he's so lost and entranced by her.
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milton puts on satan his lips silly quiz, the word by hammock or macbeth about his regret for what he has done, about the mixture of good and evil, that all of us are. there are other scriptures that i mentioned, i also look at thomas man's joseph books, a trilogy -- for macbooks that tells a story of joseph and his brothers, but it also discussing the rise of nazism in germany at the time. it's a comment on his own time. and finally i took david grossman's little book, a difficult story but sampson is a
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very unlikely hero. kind of a thug willy, but goldman, if you want to see what midrash is like, you see it, you see it with goldman. he takes, grossman rather, he takes every single sentence and comments on it and comes out with some beautiful thoughts about human nature in the person of that unlikely hero, sampson. so yes, i think we can probably, there are attempts to find scriptures can do once. they can become rather sloppy and sentimental, but when they are applied with rigor in the way that milton did and grossman, you have an intelligence that makes you see the scriptures differently and apply them to your own age. >> wonderful combination of scripture and literature.
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thank you for that complete answer. right over there. >> hello. i had a quick question. given the fact we're in the world's largest library and tonight you have reminded us that throughout the history of writing, the primary way we communicated taught and learned was through oral technique to much of which would probably have forgotten since we engage in writing so much sense, not only the invention of the press but everything you talked about, a couple of centuries later. do you see that in modern technology, social media, the world of all the various devices that we have, that we are shifting in some historic way, away from understanding and communicating in writing something that is morphing into
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some combination of something that is less writing and begin becoming either more oral or visual as something different that we have expressed before? are we moving in a new way of communication that may be something similar to the ancient but not quite? >> you may very well be right. i'm not very -- [inaudible] yes, you may well be right. what slightly worries me, we were talking about this earlier, about the phone. is that we are never in the moment anymore. i was telling a story. i was in singapore recently and i was in a restaurant and a couple came in to have lunch together, and they sat down at a table, he immediately took up the phone and started talking to other people, which they did for the entire lunch. and then when the lunch arrived
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he took a photograph of his hamburger. so he could say, we had lunch. this was the hamburger that we had. instead, scripture is asking us to be in the moment, and very often you see people, i see them walking up and down my street which is a very pretty 18th-century street in the middle of london, beautiful curve. they are not looking at it. they are yakking to somebody on the phone, or people are walking along a beautiful cliff by the sea and there chatting to someone in the office. we have to be in the moment. i worry in social media about the ugliness of some of it, the bullying, the fact that children are sometimes being driven to suicide by the unkindest because you don't have to look someone
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in the face and tell them something horrible. you can do it anonymously without taking the consequences. probably you have had this year, but there have been suicides and there are even websites where you can codify the how to commit suicide, as a 14-year-old child did quite recently in birmingham. i think -- but i'm not think it is evil because it is good and evil mixed, i think. it could, it could bring us together more, but, at a think of the prophet muhammad for a moment, because when the quran came down, it wasn't always on some lonely mountaintop like moses. people would come in asking about a problem in the
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community, and we are told that he wouldn't you say oh, i'll think about that. no, he would think deeply into it. so deeply that he would grow pale and sweat even on a cold day. sometimes he would shake with the effort of struggling to find an answer, and then out would come this message from the koran, from the depths of his heart, from the depths of his being. sometimes he would take cover me up and he would shake, but out of that effort, what he was doing was really entering into that moment with the whole of him, , his body and his soul entering to get as deeply into that problem as possible. and i fear that some of it, the whole idea of the tweet, whatever characters it is, i think it could become a
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simplification as well as an escape from the present moment. the present moment is all we have. we might all be dead the next moment if something happened or terrace suddenly march in. we don't know -- terrorists. the scripture tells us to live in that moment. but i don't want to sound too much like a sort of iconic -- because i'm too old to enjoy it and inhabit it fully. i haven't embraced it much. i don't want to be endlessly chatting. i hate the telephone. the regular ones. [laughing] i find it an intrusion when i am writing or thinking. really prefer people face-to-face. but still i may be one of those
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iconoclasts, or just come but it is probably a bit of good and aa bit of evil, as all things are. >> great question, thank you, and a marvelous answer. we have time for one more question i believe. >> i'm prefacing this i i am interpreting you as saying that a scripture is not closed even though we talk about sacred scripture in cannons, and that the engagement with scripture should not be something that we are just taking and freezing in time. okay. in much of human endeavor that's what we want to do. as both religious scripture that is to take the united states constitution, to take communism, the works of marx and lenin, et
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cetera. it occurs to me that there is a dynamic year, and i like your comment on this, that that dynamic is one of fear. and it comes to me from the standpoint that once upon a time i pretended to be a musician. and as a musician i never performed or work exactly the same. because if i did it was dead. if i engaged with it i discovered something new. so my question to you is, what you are saying about scripture, it is like somebody performing a piece of music took you must constantly engage. it is a challenge. you don't know where it's going to go, and that that should be informing how you relate to people whose scriptures are different from yours.
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>> i think that's a really profound remark. i do think, i think about the fear, too, because i think about fear. we are all frightened beings but we have good reason to be fearful at the present moment. and it is, i think scripture teaches us, i think what i heard you say, scripture makes us look at things we are afraid of, like extension. that if you do the same thing over and over again exactly the same, somehow it died, a sense of fear. and we are all frightened beings. we are all going to face our own deaths, and we have to live with that. i think perhaps some of which
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are saying is a bit about the death fear, and we want to leave our mark for when we have gone. we go back to the past that make it, revise it as it were and make it live again in the present. and so -- what was the last thing you said? [inaudible] music? [inaudible] >> don't repeat it. [inaudible] >> yes, definitely. because we are now living in a world where we know about other peoples scriptures. and other peoples religions. we used to hear, travelers would come back from far distant lands
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and tell those weird stories about what goes on in other parts of the world. muslims running around a little building, what on earth are they doing? now we understand the depths and the profound similarities that we see right in china, india, muslims, christians, jews, and that scripture and we see how profound the likenesses are and what are the differences. and that makes some people afraid because they want their faith to be singular. and it is when we begin to find out about other peoples scriptures that we started getting fundamentalism. people going back and saying this is the bedrock of faith, mine is better. that link up with the terrible wave of nationalism that is
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coming up at the moment, makes it for example. i keep saying it but if you just come from britain that's all we hear about these days. feels some of us with despair. i honestly don't know how the country is going to come back together after this, we are so profoundly divided. but here remember when the berlin wall came down and people were dancing in the street? we've seen people cheering at the prospect of war between mexico and the united states. so that you have a sense of wanting your little scripture, your little world being the one. we can't do that anymore. because the world is coming to us, and it comes to us in the form of migrants dying every day trying to get into europe and the united kingdom. you heard this terrible story about those 29 people from
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vietnam recently just died in a refrigerated car at essex trying to get into the united kingdom. keeping out, keeping other peoples scriptures at bay is a result of fear, and yet the scriptures are all asking us, like confucius, to go out from in a series of concentric circles to embrace the world. and go out to all tribes and nations. let me finish on a word, on the phrase from the koran, which is seen by so many people as an evil scripture. haven't read it of course and if they have read it i said that that how you read the koran. they don't read the koran. they listen to it in arabic, not
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-- but this is his last message to his community. he knew he would be dying soon and they made the pilgrimage together and he spoke. and he told them not to fight one another, muslims must not fight one another. we are all one family. he ended with this phrase in which god speaks to the whole of humanity. and i think it's something that we need to learn today. oh, humankind, and is using, he's talking about ottoman eve, that we all came from a single person but i'm going to do a bit of mid-rush year and suggest that -- midrash here and suggest each one of us, a fusion of opposites coming together to make a new person.
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oh, humankind, god says to the people of the world, we have created you all from a male and female, and we have formed you into tribes of nations so that you make it to know one another. and that should be our task today. [applause] >> dr. armstrong, thank you for that enlightening talk in which you have brought us down deep to places where we don't usually go, and then brought us up to an illuminated explanation of faith at its true roots. thank you so much. please, help me thank dr. armstrong, and please meet her
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at the signing tables next door where you can actually ask another question or two, perhaps. thank you so much for joining us tonight. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> here's a look at some of the most notable books of 2019 according to the "new york times."
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>> in this room tonight, my mother, a a poet in her own rit -- [applause] how as a child i watched her every move seeing her eyes fall upon every word anywhere encountered in the grocery store, on a bus, pamphlet, that packets label, my high school textbooks. she was always wolfing down words and station which is how a learn the words were a kind of sustenance to be a beautiful relief or greatest assault or how i learned that words with the best, make me know, my mother was always saying in
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between raising 12 humans. i am in this room, and so is my mother. [applause] >> in this room my big sister who left the yellow house when she was only 19 which then felt like a lurching mission to plan unknown. in this room tonight my love, a fellow artist, the most inspired accompaniment of my life. in the course, my siblings not here but his voices exist in mind, carl, michael, karen, iran, troy, eddie, deborah, thank you for telling me the stories in the first place and for trusting me to make something of them, for allowing
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me to call your names because, because it is no small thing to recover the names. that the names of my family told me the history of myself and some of whom died before this book was finished and in the world. these absent presence, but anthony lane, my mothers only sister, my uncle joe in january of this year, and then the swiftest blow, my oldest brother simon junior, who died the day after this book appeared in the world. ..


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