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01 November 2016


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David Habakkuk


It is an extraordinary book.

I don’t want to quibble, but have been looking at the background recently – in part because, as I would never have imagined when I first read it decades ago, so much is relevant to contemporary events.

Work on the novel actually started in 1928, and Bulgakov had not finished when he died in 1940. So much of it was written at the height of the Terror.

It follows on from an earlier Russian presentation of one of the great themes of Christian civilisation.

The confrontation between Christianity and the pagan Roman Empire had already been reworked by Dostoevsky in the legend of the Grand Inquisitor in ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, which is among other things an anticipation of the dynamics of the Russian Revolution.

When Bulgakov, who had stayed in Russia through the Revolution and its aftermath, but was ‘White’ through and through, returned to the theme, he had every reason to link contemporary events to ancient history.

So Pilate, as imagined by Bulgakov, combines elements of a Stalinist official with those of the ‘White’ hangman-general Roman Khludov from Bulgakov’s phantasmagoric play ‘Flight’, completed at around the time its author started on ‘The Master and Margarita’ – which deals with a group of ‘Whites’ retreating through Crimea and ending up in Istanbul and Paris.

The figure of Khludov, who talks obsessively to the shadow of a soldier who has spoken out and he has had hanged, and eventually returns to Russia, is based on upon an actual historical figure – General Yakov Slashchev, who had held the Crimea for the ‘Whites’ against overwhelming odds in the winter of 1919-20, using methods like those of Khludov, and did indeed return to Russia.

The ‘Yeshua’ of the novel has, I think, elements of a traditional Russian ‘holy fool’. The strangeness of the story comes from the fact that Pilate needs him, and desperately wants to avoid crucifying him – but knows he will be denounced to Tiberius by the High Priest if he does so, and so confirms the sentence.

A kind of ‘leitmotif’of the novel is the notion that, as Yeshua and and other characters say throughout its course, cowardice is the greatest of vices, or sins – the way the thought is expressed, and the translations, differ.

The antithesis between Christian and ‘Roman’ values is also central, in another way, to Arthur Koestler’s novel of the Terror, ‘Darkness at Noon’, finished in the same year as Bulgakov’s – which is prefaced by quotations from Dostoevsky and Machiavelli. The title if, of course, a reference to the crucifixion.

Another common feature of the two novels is that at the centre of both is the relationship between members of the old intelligentsia, and the new élites created by the Revolution. In Bulgakov’s novel, you have the bad teacher, Berlioz, the good teacher, the Master, and ‘Ivan Homeless’, who, in different ways, is a pupil of both.

In Koestler’s, you have the arrested ‘Old Bolshevik’ Rubashov, his former comrade Ivanov, who begins his interrogation, and his subordinate the ‘new man’, Gletkin, who takes over after Ivanov has been shot.

One thing that Koestler, like Orwell after him, got wrong was in imagining that a ‘totalitarian’ state could erase the past. As Bulgakov, a greater writer than either, well knew, and has became vividly apparent after the collapse of communism, the past had always been there, under the surface. I may return in toxic forms, but can return in benign ones.

And implicit in the nature of the revolt against Christianity – which was central to Marxism – was the possibility of a return to it. That Gletkin’s grandson might read ‘The Master and Margarita’ would I think have seemed difficult for Koestler to imagine, but I think would not have particularly surprised Bulgakov.


And interesting to note that others consider evangelical Christianity as a cult. Have lived and served in Russia, I recall the Russians considered Baptists as a cult. As the Russian Orthodox Church regained its position, this view seemed to harden among the populace. They drew upon the schism between Rome and Constantinople in an 'us against them', Orthodox vs. Catholics. I had numerous Russians tell me that they consider me, a Lutheran who attended Anglican divine services in Moscow, as a Catholic. It was as if the events of 500 years ago (anniversary this week) didn't occur. Their ranking scheme was Russian Orthodox, other Orthodox, Catholic (including the liturgical Protestants), then evangelical Christians- and then Baptists, who were deemed to be a sect. As they say, depends on one's point of view.


PL wrote: He also said that Catholicism suppressed knowledge to "consolidate its power." Rubbish. Is he aware that the Roman Empire collapsed because of bad government and barbarian in-migration. In that collapse the Church saved whatever could be saved in the West.


Interesting thread.


As far as I can see, the main beneficiaries of the destruction of the Christian communities in the middle east appear to be Muslim. I think Israel benefits also from the chaos within their regional rivals. That the US government is actively complicit, really the main operator in this regard, is sickening.


Every organized religion which is comprised of a congregation of faithful believers is a cult. By definition. That the word "cult" has been imbued with pejorative connotations in popular usage is IMHO stupid and wrong.

Christianity was invented and promoted as an imperial religion by Constantine as a means of uniting the empire in a common cult. The previous many-God-system institutionalized social divisions among the many cults.


Thank you Ma'am. Note that most of the immigrants to North America from the Levant and greater middle east have been Christians fleeing from war and chaos caused by the USA and its proxies.



The relationship between Muslims and the minority Christian communities was fairly stable until the Sunni revivalist wave that arose twenty odd years ago. the Israeli government has always treated the Christian population of Palestine as a rival and dangerously likely to attract Western sympathy like yours. It is true IMO that the US has been completely indifferent to the fate of Arab Christians. pl


Henry J, this on the surface looks like what I tentatively call Babak's seemingly irrational element. From my own limited nitwit perspective. ;)

"The crux of the biscuit": Their demise suits the Protestants, in my view.

Question: Who are the Protestants? Surely not something that could be easily squeezed into Babak's two theses about the two central 'cultural spheres'. They didn't exist in those times. But what else?

... Seems there is no doubt there are forces in the region that religiously are not tolerant. I shouldn't trust concerned reports? Kerry? The Knights of Columbus? ... Referring to the 278 page report linked in your article.

Personally I don't trust--I have to admit--the, according to tyler, sure future 'baroque emperor'* of something one could no doubt call the 'dominant protestant power'. Or his quizzical foreign policy outlook, except for a few 'rational elements'.




"The Knights of Columbus?" Ah, now there is a sinister group. You do know that this is a social club created to keep Catholic workingmen away from the Freemasons? pl


I have just arrived at the deposition of Romulus Augustulus in the book Les Derniers Jours by Michel de Jaeghere. It is a thick most informative book about the last two centuries of the Western Roman Empire. I don't know whether it has been translated. It is a mine of information.


divadab, admittedly whatever I read about Calvin, didn't really attract me. Was it biased? I was attracted to one aspect of Luther at one point in time, shifting to Protestant religion classes in school without formal allowance at that point. "Celtic Calvinist"?

Babak Makkinejad

Under George Bush, the United States Government had hired the Jewish Agency to help de-populate Iran from religious minorities; among them Assyrian and Chaldean Christians as though they were a separate group.

A few months ago, Ayatollah Khamenei, per his usual custom of meeting the relatives of the war dead, visited the family of an Assyrian soldier who had died in the Iran-Iraq War.


my "Presbyterian Wall", white, bare, simple, meditative
triggers a chain of association. But let me give you two basic random links from the top of my head. Needs knowledged and interested Wikipedians. In the larger iconoclast events.

Images and religion have a long tradition in Monotheism, buried in history, but my guess is rooted in the same source:



b y o'carbon

Today’s Presbyterian Church, at least as embodied by the PCUSA vs. some of its more conservative offshoots, embraced liberal theology back in the 1920’s. See, for example, “The Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalists, Modernists and Moderates” by Longfield (William Jennings Bryant and the traditionalists vs. the forces of ‘modernity’, with the traditionalists losing.) It has never, however, been able to clearly define itself since. It is a church composed of typically politically and theologically moderate, middle to upper middle class congregations with a politically and theologically liberal, social activist clergy. Its attempt at keeping a big tent to embrace all results in only a muddled message, and when the adults in the congregations lose control, its radical elements then become its most vocal.

The Presbyterian Church remains firmly Trinitarian, but it emphasizes a purely spiritual interpretation of the Trinity. And a white wall is void of all the entrapments of traditions and histories, allowing one to focus on how best to live the future.


Leander - Calvin holds little allure for me but rather for my ancestors who rejected State-imposed religion in favor of simple communal protestantism - a return to basics. My main objection is the doctrine of predestination which to me is based on circular reasoning, as is much argument proffered by literalists. But I admit to being a tree-hugging dirt worshiping Heliophile.

Celtic calvinists? - Welsh methodists, Scottish Reformers, Breton Huguenots, and Irish Presbyterians - descendents of the makers of the great menhirs, passage tombs, and most importantly, great solar ritual centers of the Celtic Atlantic neolithic such as Stonehenge.


Excuse me for quibbling, but the circular building around the Tomb, called the Anastasis, is of Byzantine date, perhaps even of St Helena, who discovered the tomb. Though no doubt much rebuilt since. It was the basilica to the east which was destroyed by al-Hakim, and then replaced by the Crusader Church.

What surprised me was that the original limestone bench had remained covered by builder's rubble for so long.


To me that's an odd comment. In what way are Muslims beneficiaries, do you think?


By the way, al-Hakim is generally recognised to have been mad. He ended up by disappearing, thus allowing his Druze followers to claim he would return. He forbad women to go out in the streets. When that didn't work, he forbad shoemakers to make outdoor shoes for women. The destruction of the Constantinian basilica was not because of "Islamic oppression", but because of a particular mad man. It has survived pretty well since.


I think you're basing you findings on outdated stats. Since the vile
upstart of ISIS a tiny % of refugees entering the US & Canada from the MENA have been Christian, Yazidi Kurds, or Shia Muslims. The judge who recently questioned the Obama administration on this matter is Daniel Manion, US Court of Appeals 7th circuit. CNS news & WND have also tried to keep up to date data for their readers.

Your latest comment confuses me on several levels.


Sir - not sure what your objection was to my reply to Leander about celtic calvinism but I would like to reply and not leave the question hanging - I respectfully request you post it.

Thanks for the lively interchange on taboo topics. Religion more usually divides people than unites them and so I seek - Ecumenism!



I believe it was LeaNder who did not understand "celtic Calvinism." pl


Wasn't my intention to suggest they are sinister, Pat. They simply seem to have been involved in a report for Kerry, linked in the article Henry J. suggested above in response to Babak above. That was the comment that sent me into 'meander valley'.

Genocide against Christians in the Middle East
A report submitted to Secretary of State John Kerry
by the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians

Henry J's link:


Sorry, divadab, nitwit question.

I was indeed struggling with Celtic between language and the history of Calvinism in the larger religious struggle in England. Is this why you call it "Celtic Calvinism", to stress the tradition? ...

Here is my problem, religion, language, region, (politics):

You could also be American with roots in that tradition or some type of historical awareness. Presbyterian?

Look, I was simply curious.


Thanks, divadab, it simply caught my attention.

I thought it must be a more humorous reference in the end. But only after admittedly struggling with the term and possible connotations.

mistah charley, ph.d.

A very interesting thread, with its information on differences in perspective. If the story of Jesus's interment is true, what else might be true? As David Lentini notes above, the implications are profound.

Something that may help bridge differing interpretations of the essence of Jesus's message is the following piece which really impressed me when I first read it. It is about the views of Billy Graham, a leader of the Baptist "cult". Strangely, it appeared in the supermarket tabloid publication "Weekly World News", generally a lowbrow satirical publication. My own faith journey has crossed various boundaries within American Christendom, from Methodism to Unitarianism, and now (thanks to the influence of my spouse, who is my biggest blessing) a happy participant in the choir of a Catholic parish. If one broadens Graham's suggestions just a bit - from daily prayer to "prayer or meditation", and from Bible reading to include devotional, inspirational, and philosophical readings from the wisdom tradition of the seeker's choice, it seems to me it would be acceptable even to agnostics who don't believe in the afterlife, as a guideline to living in a fully human way.

from The Weekly World News, 1998:

In a review of Reverend Graham's writings, sermons and interviews, five themes emerge – five principles that he believes every human being should strive to live by in order to join God in Heaven. They're based on the Bible and on Reverend Graham's own experience. Here are the five ideas Billy Graham stresses over and over again in his written and spoken words. Practice them in your daily life and Heaven is definitely in your future.

Pray regularly

Reverend Graham has often said that too many people use prayer as a last resort – praying only when they need God to get them out of a jam. But as long as people think of God as some kind of errand boy or lifeguard, Heaven will always be out of reach. Jesus tells us God wants to be our friend. You wouldn't treat a friend that way. You want to spend time just talking and listening to your friends, enjoying their company. God wants us to visit Him regularly – for no other reason than that we like Him and He likes us. So it's important to spend time in prayer every day, even when things are going well.

Love others

This doesn't mean we have to "feel" loving toward everyone all the time. We are human and sometimes other people are going to upset us. The point is that we should act in loving ways – even to people who aren't very lovable. Remember Jesus said that if we're only kind to people who were kind to us, it means nothing. Even people who don't have God in their lives do that. The thing that sets believers apart is their willingness to try to love even difficult people.

Read the Bible

Reverend Graham says even he has not done as much Bible reading as he feels he should have. "I wish I had studied a great deal more. I wish I knew the Bible better than I do," he said not long ago. But he says it's never too late to start. He says that studying and reading the Bible can not only lead us toward Heaven, it can also help us get more enjoyment from our lives on Earth.

Resist temptation

The charismatic evangelist admits that in the past he spent too much time railing about hellfire and damnation. "I was too emotional in my early years," he says. Nevertheless, yielding to temptations of the flesh can give the Devil a grip on your life and pull you away from Heaven. When asked how he has managed to avoid the indiscretions that have brought down other, weaker evangelists, Reverend Graham says one prayer always works: "Lord, help me RIGHT NOW!” God will help us resist temptation if we ask Him.

Be humble

Always remember, if there's good in your life it's God who put it there. Taking credit for God's kindness will only separate you from Him and His Kingdom. To be humble is to be teachable. We all have a lot to learn. And an openness to learning more about God is consistent with citizenship in Heaven.

Of course, no one can practice these five things perfectly. Reverend Graham freely admits that even he has fallen short of the mark many times. But doing your best to practice these principles will ensure you a place in Heaven.

[end of quote from Weekly World News]

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