Friday, October 07, 2016

Good Hater is now out in paperback!

You can get it at Amazon here.

If you buy a deadwood edition, you should be able to download the Kindle version for free.  Let me know how that goes, ok?

Monday, March 14, 2016

A nice review

Of Swords of Darkness:
Some stories are certainly better than others, Bill Hoyt's "A Test of His Metal" is well developed with a satisfying twist, and Charles Jake's piece, "The Price of Ambition" is an enjoyable read that begs to be turned into a longer and more developed work and "Dance of Swords" by JC Kang is a well written slice of something clearly larger in scope that we can hope someday to read in entirety. A few other stories seem less skilfully woven, however overall Swords of Darkness does not disappoint.
FWIW, I also thought Jake's and Kang's were among the best of the lot.  If you like swords, why not give LC Mortimer's first fantasy anthology a look?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Officially a best-selling author

One more off the bucket list.

UPDATE: #1 in Slavery Biographies as well, just ahead of Twelve Years a Slave.  And I didn't even get a movie deal.

Monday, January 04, 2016

If you were an actual story, my love

If you were an actual story, my love, you would have a plot, that structure of narrative points that makes a tale comprehensible. It might be a light and airy plot, like the joyful flight of a lark on a clear summer morn. Or it might be dark and dreary, the slogging of the last dragon, dying in an endless slough. But it would not be hidden away from sight, beneath paste and powder, like a pimple on prom night.

If you were an actual story, my love, you would have characterization. Some of your characters might be good people (or even dinosaurs, brrrr…) that sometimes do bad things if even for good reasons. And a few might even be bad people who do good things on rare occasions. But they would never be limited to cardboard victims and free-floating Hitler mustaches drawn in crayon.

If you were an actual story, my love, you would reward the reader for the small portion of his life he invested in you. You would never drive him to check his watch, first every stanza, then every sentence, then every blank space that appears, like a cool desert oasis, between each tiresome word. You would never make a thousand words seem as wearisome as a thousand years on the rack, nor feel as rancid as a thousand maggots burrowing out of the reader’s living belly.

If you were an actual story, my love, you would read and feel nothing like “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love.”


Hi Bill,

Your account was recently brought to our attention.  Upon review, we have decided to remove it from the site.  You are banned from using Goodreads in any capacity going forward.

The Goodreads Team

I guess they liked it.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Author Interview: Bill Hoyt

Author's Note: What follows is a reprint of an interview I did with Beth Jones of The Hungry Freelancer in mid 2013.  It is published here for archival purposes only.

Bill Hoyt is the author of Good Hater and, most recently, The Monster Maiden of Westering Slough (Tales of the Red Brethren). He took the time to share some of what he's learned about the importance of indie publishing, the fantasy genre, and how writers can start to improve their craft.

Your most recent book features a young girl who was brutally scarred by a fire. What was the inspiration behind this book? How difficult was it to capture the essence of her character?

Many writers believe that a story should be about who hurts the most. So for the Monster Maiden of Westering Slough I started with a generic character and gave her some real pain, just to see how she reacted to it.  But during that process, I recalled the number of times I've been absolutely astonished at how well young people seem to handle unfathomable setbacks or tremendous pain. We've all seen the kid who is dying of bone cancer at 15 and thought, where does she find the strength to deal with that?  In those cases, it's often those around who suffer most. The kid is dying – and knows it – but it's a parent who cries herself to sleep every night.  My character reacted sort of like that. So I made her father suffer even more by making him responsible for her being burned. After all, he raised the dragon that did it. She has forgiven him, but he still feels guilty. 

In the end, she's a talented girl who has a good sense of fairness and a bit of a temper and who is understandably hurt and frustrated by people who abuse her. But her father is a scarred man who doesn’t always do the wise thing when it might provide a shortcut to restoring his daughter's face, and thereby relieving the guilt he carries. So the story in the end became more about him, because he was the one who had the pain.

What is your favorite genre to read? Do you find yourself leaning toward this genre in your own writing?

After history, without a doubt my favorite genre is fantasy, both to read and to write. But I'll admit to being very opinionated about what makes up that genre. I enjoy Tolkien and LeGuin and Feist and Saberhagen; good stories featuring magical swords and wizards and dragons are, to me, fantasy.  An erotic novel in which one of the characters just happens to be a mermaid is not. A romance novel about menopausal werewolves that could be told just as well without werewolves is not. So I tend to skip a lot of modern fantasy. You cannot read everything, and it makes little sense to read what holds no appeal to you. Unless, of course, you're reading it in order to improve your own writing in some way.  That’s always a good idea. But then it's work and not play.

What advice would you offer to new writers who want to break into indie publishing?
Indie is an immediate way to share your expertise, to tell your story, to make some money. 

I also believe that it is the future of publishing. The current book publishing model, with its corporate publishers and distribution channels designed to move physical books, is being broken upon the wheel of technology. Those who are publishing indie and electronically today (and learning the necessary companion skills, like self-marketing) are building the next model.  It will likely be one in which the phrase “published author” is redundant or perhaps even meaningless – what is a “published author” in a world without corporate publishers? So I would say that if you think others will enjoy your work, publish it yourself. Everyone will soon be doing it.

But we also need to be honest with ourselves about why we want to go indie, because if we’re not, we’re liable to get hurt or embittered very quickly. What I mean by that is that there are a lot of authors who believe they have written the Great American Novel. They are certain that it’s not published only because every editor they have sent it to is an incompetent jerk. But readers of that book are quite likely to agree with the editors and have no qualms about saying so. Seeing your beloved work mauled in public is far more painful than reading a rejection on crème-colored cotton paper with nice letterhead in the privacy of your own home; at least there you can burn the letter.  So if a person is going indie to avoid the pain of rejection by professional editors, they would be well served to learn the craft better first. Learning to write well is hard work. Indie publishing does not relieve authors of the responsibility to do that work.

You're also a blogger and have been for some time. Have you found that regularly writing in your blog has improved your skills as an author?

Without a doubt. Blogging forces you to capture the essence of a story in only a few paragraphs. It's almost like writing a micro-story. I have found that practice to be especially helpful for writing history, in which I need to form small stories into the building blocks that will make up a bigger one, whether I’m writing a biography or the story of a railroad strike.

Even though I found it most useful for non-fiction, it cannot hurt a fiction author to have one more outlet for writing. It is the practice, not the end use, which helps us the most. Just don't give your best ideas away to strangers for free.

Would you recommend that new writers take advantage of social media sites to promote their books, or are these sites overrated?
Yes and yes.  I do think that Twitter and Facebook and the like are overrated. Unless you already have a million followers, you're not likely to send out a tweet that brings a thousand readers to your new book.  But I think you need to be in those places anyway. New writers should make themselves available to their readers, and social media is a great way to do that. Maybe when you're selling like Dean Koontz you won't have the time to interact with those who read your books. But for now, access to you is a service you can provide your readers for very little cost.  Any way you can keep them thinking about you and your books is going to benefit you in the long run.

Read more about Bill and his current books at El Borak's Myopia or Facebook.

Author Interview: Bill Hoyt

Author's Note: What follows is a reprint of an interview I did with Beth Jones of The Hungry Freelancer in late 2012.  It is published here for archival purposes only.

In the upcoming weeks, I'll be posting a series of author interviews. I've chosen several Kindle authors who have successfully published their work online. If you're looking for some new books to read or just want to learn what makes indie publishing work, check out these posts.

Today's interview is with Bill Hoyt, author of Good Hater: George Henry Hoyt's War on Slavery. You can buy Good Hater exclusively on Amazon Kindle for $2.99.

What is your book about?
Good Hater details the Civil War career of a young Massachusetts lawyer who became the most feared guerrilla hunter on the Kansas Missouri border, George Henry Hoyt (no relation). That career is bookended by two speeches, one delivered to the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-slavery society before the war, and the second delivered to a group of freed slaves in Kansas near its end. I compare these speeches and demonstrate how the bloody realities of war changed the lofty ideals of the first speech into the brutal cynicism displayed in the second. I also demonstrate how the abolitionist legacy of John Brown was carried on in Kansas by many surrogates after his execution in Virginia.

What made you decide to publish as an Indie writer, rather than opting for trade publishing?
There are really two reasons. The first is purely selfish: I'm not a big fan of gatekeepers. I knew the book was good or at least was filled with good information, and I had no intention of waiting around, possibly for years, for an editor to decide that money could be made on it. As an indie publisher, I maintained total control of the publication and marketing process, from picking the cover to pricing the book and deciding where it would be available. As an author primarily interested in making the story available, the decision was easy.

The second reason goes back to my historical training. One of my assignments in my first class as a history graduate student was to utterly shred a history book written by a Harvard professor and published by Oxford. The exercise was designed to help us overcome our fear of "credentialism." But I learned a second lesson: despite the persistent reputation that books published by reputable presses are good (or in the case of history books, accurate), it's not necessarily true. Independently published books can be better than books published in a standard manner, and I believe over time, the public's perception will reflect that reality. So independently publishing a good book helps that process along. 

What was your favorite part of creating your book?
This is going to sound strange, but it was actually finding old pictures that illustrated the content of each chapter. Research was a blast. Writing was fun - and if it's not fun, you should be doing something else. But once it was 99% done, adding that little something that made it "done" was the most rewarding part. I love to finish things, and in this case, finishing meant adding the material I could not include when it was a stuffy grad school thesis.

If you could tell new writers one thing, what would it be?
Write. It sounds simple, and it is deceptively so. But so many people refuse to write until they know precisely what they want to say, therefore they never really start. Write a story, write a paragraph, write a description of a particularly ugly nose, but write something and edit it later. You can always throw stuff away (and you will). You can always expand, and you will. But often, you will never know exactly what you want to say until you have said it - then the editing process helps you to say it better. But write something every day, even if you have nothing to write, and maybe especially if you have nothing to write. Writing is a discipline, and you must discipline yourself to do it by doing it.

Want to learn more? Visit Bill Hoyt at El Borak's Myopia or "like" Good Hater on Facebook.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Less than it seems, Part Deux

Leavest thou me out of this.
So last week I promised that we would return to Sir Isaac Newton whom, it is alleged in the prior video, named the present month/year as a date of some prophetic importance.  However, unlike Adam Clark, Newton did not specifically note 2015. Instead, Newton separated the "seven and sixty two weeks" of Daniel's Seventy Weeks prophecy into first and second comings, and from there we infer 2015.  Kind of.

I just happen to have a copy of Newton's commentary on Daniel and Revelation*. In Chapter 10, Newton writes the following concerning the 70 Weeks:
Know also and understand that from the going forth of the commandment to cause to return and to build Jerusalem, shall be seven weeks.  The former part of the prophecy related to the first coming of Christ, being dated to his coming as a prophet; this being dated to his coming to be prince or king, seems to relate to his second coming.
Newton then goes on to explain that some prophecies apply to both the first and second coming, and notes that this may very well be one of them. So Newton seems to relate the period of "seven weeks" to Christ's second coming.  So how do we get from that rather vague aside to 2015?

To get there, we must jump over to a book called Petrus Romanus by Thomas Horn and Chris Putnam, from which C.Ervana read in a prior video, and which I also happen to have in my library.  We read on p.287 of a fellow named T.W. Tramm, who did a bit of fancy math in still another book. Tramm concluded that:
If one counts exactly forty-nine (360 day) prophetic years (17,640 days) from the June 7, 1967 date of Jerusalem's recapture, we arrive at September 23rd, 2015, -- the Day of Atonement. Coincidence?
I'll leave the reader to decide whether something is a coincidence.  But I would like to lay out the assumptions necessary to conclude that Sept 23rd is a date of prophetic importance according to Newton:
  1. Newton was correct that the "seven weeks" of Daniel's Seventy Weeks prophecy applied to the Second Coming, and not just the first as most scholars take it.**
  2. The "seven weeks" count began the day Israel re-captured Old Jerusalem in the Six Day War of 1967.
  3. The "seven weeks" are "seven weeks of years," i.e. 49 years.
  4. These years are not "calendar" years, but lunar years of 360 days.
So if those assumptions all hold true and correct, then September 23rd could be a heck of a day.  But as with Clarke's naming of 2015 for the expiration date of Daniel's "little horn," if one link in the chain fails, then it's likely to be just another day.

My primary problem with the claim lies in assumption number 2, kicking off the 7 weeks in 1967. Newton himself noted that, "Here, by putting a week for seven years, are reckoned from the time that the dispersed Jews should be re-incorporated into a people and a holy city, until the death and resurrection of Christ..."  In other words, Newton began the clock on the date the Jews were "reincorporated into a people". The best modern parallel to that is 1948, the establishment of the state of Israel. One can argue that the recapture of old Jerusalem in 1967 is just as meaningful (i.e. put the emphasis on "and a holy city"). But I am unconvinced that it's more significant than re-establishment of a Jewish state after 1800+ years of diaspora. It just looks like someone was playing with numbers to find a coincidence.

But I have another problem related to the first: the parlor trick of switching to 360-day years halfway through the prophecy. Newton used, as far as I can tell, calendar years. So does everyone else, and Horn and Putnam note that if you use calendar years here, the seven weeks end in 2016. Calling a shortened year a "prophetic" year does not really help the prophetic case other than finding a coincidence between two dates. If one were to apply a 360-day year consistently, it would throw off the first coming / resurrection prophecy by 7 whole years, or an entire "week."  Obviously, that's weak sauce.

So the short version is that Newton never "called" 2015, nor specifically September 23rd, as any sort of meaningful prophetic date. Tying his reputation to this date does the man an injustice. And it would probably piss him off as well.  In fact, Newton wrote (as I mentioned before):
"This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail."
So either something really awesome will happen in 11 days, or it won't.  Here's to hoping it does.  If you're really convinced it will and it doesn't, just remember that God is a better mathematician than you are, especially as you're double-checking his numbers through a glass darkly.

Oh, and stop setting dates. You're making God look bad. And Newton as well.

* It's actually a reprint of Thomas Jefferson's personal copy of Newton. Jefferson was not so disinterested in things biblical as is generally imagined.
** "Most" here includes Newton, who uses it in his 490 year calculation from the Captivity to Christ's first coming.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Less than it seems

I'm something of a fan of C.Ervana, being a subscriber to both of his* YouTube channels, though for a number of reasons, I'm not convinced that the End Times begin in earnest a mere 17 days from today.  But I appreciate talent, and if I needed a videographer after September 23rd and C.Ervana was available**, I would definitely hire him.  I just hope that when September 23rd comes and goes, without an asteroid or a rapture or an alien in sight, he will take advantage of the teachable moment that eventually comes to everyone who ignores the plain meaning of Jesus' admonition that no man knoweth the day or the hour.***

That said, this post is not about September 23rd, which I suspect will pass with little of real eternal interest occurring, but addresses the oft-used appeal to authority that falls upon "Bible Experts" rather than upon the scriptures themselves.

Now, if you watch the video - and you should - one thing you'll note is the lack of explanation of why this legion of bible teachers****, most of whom lived about the same time, all came to the conclusion that strange things are afoot at the Circle K coming in 2015.  And the reason is not that each of them independently studied many scriptures and reasoned their way to 2015, but that each of them subscribed to a particular interpretation of particular passages in Daniel and Revelation that was popular during their lives.

When you understand this, it becomes obvious that the 2015 date relies less on 'expertise' than on the strength of that particular interpretation, so let's take a look at it.

Now, it might come as a surprise that Adam Clarke, a Methodist minister and author of a series of commentaries I admire quite a bit, did name 2015 as a meaningful year.  And he did so in his commentary on Daniel 7:8:
If the Papal power as a horn, or temporal power, be intended here, which is most likely; (and we know that that power was given in 755, to Pope Stephen II, by Pepin, king of France;) counting one thousand two hundred and sixty years from that, we are brought to A. D. 2015, about one hundred and ninety years from the present A. D. 1825.—But I neither lay stress, nor draw conclusions, from these dates.
Ignoring that fact that Clarke specifically denies that he is setting dates here, the facts remain that:

a) He really did name the year 2015 in 1825.
b) Lots of others followed.

Point b) is most easily explained by the fact that Clark was a big fish who knew whereof he spoke when it came to biblical exposition.  One could not go much wrong taking him at his word, though he doubtless suffered from a handicap common to all men who study prophecy from the wrong end: now we see through a glass darkly, etc.

Still, Clarke did not pick 2015 out of the blue: it was the mathematical result of an interpretation that posited:

a) The Papacy is the "Little Horn" of Daniel 7:8
b)  The 1260 days or 3 1/2 years or 42 months or time, times, and half a time of Daniel and Revelation apply to the Little Horn.
c) The 1260 days really mean 1260 years.
d) The end of the Little Horn means the destruction of its entire system.
e) The count began in 755 AD.

Now, if all those things are true then it's hard to argue that 2015 will fail to hold some biblically-important events.  If a single link in the chain fails, then 2015 should similarly fail. I'm not convinced by Clarke's interpretation. That doesn't mean it's wrong, but we'll know in a couple of weeks, or maybe a couple of months.

I said all that to say this: the 2015 date of the destruction of the Papacy and the coming of all sorts of trumpets and bowls and aliens, despite the claims of the video, does not rely on dozens of Bible experts, or at least not those experts coming to independent conclusions.  With the exception of Newton and those who relied on him, the 2015 date is based on a specific interpretation of the intersection of biblical prophecy with historical events that was posited by a briefly-popular school but has since been all but forgotten.  It may be correct, or it may not.  But when you realize that's exactly how 2015 is named in Biblical prophecy by experts from centuries ago, I think it's less compelling than the headlines might state.

* I think C is a "his," though plenty of others comment by calling him "sister." I simply cannot tell from the voice, and so fall back on actual, as opposed to SJW, English, in which the masculine gender encompasses the feminine.
** I suspect he will be.
*** Having been a Christian for three decades, and holding interests in both history and prophecy that whole time, I'm amazed that I'm still amazed at the lengths to which prophecy experts will go to explain why that phrase does not mean what it says.  Still, each of them has been proved wrong thus far.
**** Newton is different and to be fair both to him and my remaining reader, we shall handle him in a separate post.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Think bigger

The eschatological bigotry of low expectations.
Huck illustrates some limits of The One who might-have-been:
Our Simple Affirmative Action President is batting zero again across the sea, this time with the desertion or destruction of a super-duper ISIS-fightin’ commando team that the US trained, equipped and then turned loose just weeks ago.
It’s like everything that man touches turns to feces.
I will miss him when he’s gone, I think.
While over the past 6 years we have witnessed plenty of Evangelical hyperventilation over whether El Presidente might be the Antichrist, all we have illustrated, in my opinion, is that we have not taken the idea of Antichrist seriously enough.

This is going to be a different kind of post.  In most posts where I reference the Bible, I am careful to stick with what the scripture says and try to expound and weigh honestly whatever varying (and sometimes contradictory) interpretations exist.  When one is trying to teach the scriptures, that's probably a pretty safe approach.  At least it allows me to sleep at night.

But in this one I'm going to give free reign to imagination, the theoretical, the wildly improbable*.  And I'm going to do it because I believe that most people don't think things through when they start promoting the idea our president is mentioned in Revelation. When Michele Bachmann and others propose Obama will bring about "the Biblical end of days," I laugh as much as Obama's audience, but for a different reason: there is simply no way for Obama to accomplish what Antichrist will. He hasn't got it in him.

I'm going to provide a small quote from Jesus' larger discourse on those end of days, and it's one that I think illustrates how Christians looking for Antichrist are setting their sights way, way too low:
Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There he is!' do not believe him. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
-- Matt 24:23-4 (NET Bible)
Think about that for a minute.  Is there anything that Obama has done that fits what Jesus said we ought to look for?  Well, Obama appeared, so that is something.  Has he performed any signs or wonders?  Despite the left's hyperventilation about Obama's epically chocolate countenance, he has never done a single thing, either before or after election, that might legitimately qualify as a sign or wonder. He hasn't stopped the oceans' rise. He hasn't set us on a course toward a more peaceful world. He hasn't even balanced a budget.  

But that's not even really the test. In order to be whom Jesus warned us about, he would need to perform signs and wonders that could  deceive the elect, i.e. those most committed to Christ.  Is there anything you can imagine Obama could do to convince dedicated Christians that he is to be obeyed and followed and even worshiped, to the exclusion of the Lord we presently claim?  If not, then we need to think bigger.

In fact, we need to think about what kinds of things the Antichrist must be that could deceive the most dedicated of Christians.  Think about some of the things Scripture says will happen around Antichrist:
[People] worshiped the beast too, saying: "Who is like the beast?" and "Who is able to make war against him?"
-- Rev 13:4

The second beast was empowered to give life to the image of the first beast so that it could speak, and could cause all those who did not worship the image of the beast to be killed.
-- Rev 13:15

These [ten] kings have a single intent, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.
-- Rev 17:13
Now, I'll be the first to admit that Revelation is filled with symbolism and that we oughtn't push it too far in a literal sense.  But we can get a 'feel' from it, and that feel is that not only is the Antichrist someone whom most people will marvel at and follow, but someone to whom those with real worldly power will willingly turn their thrones over.  He will also be able to openly kill those who oppose him without consequence. In fact, he will probably do it to cheers.**

Is there any conceivable circumstance under which Obama (or any other world leader today) could command such loyalty? Can you imagine the presidents of Mexico, France, and Syria abdicating in favor of Obama? Can we imagine Putin stepping aside in his favor? If not, then we need to think bigger.

There actually are hypothetical circumstances under which such things might happen, under which Christians and atheists and ISIS might join together. They are admittedly outrageous. But it's my opinion that only under such outrageous circumstances could the earth possibly become united under one ruler. Despite the machinations of the Illuminati or the Freemasons or the UN, I suspect that in order to voluntarily join forces, the entire planet would need to face an undeniable, imminent, external, extinction-level threat.

Reagan said before the UN that one thing that might cause humanity to set aside our differences would be if we faced an alien invasion.  We've all seen it in countless movies, where the whole world waits on the black smartass, the misunderstood Jew, and the drunk Boomer to save them.  And they do, because Hollywood. We laugh and cheer and go home the same people we were hours before.  But how would our collective outlook change if real spaceships, as large as Mount Shasta and as impenetrable as the basement of the New York Fed, appeared over every city in the world and started making demands of us? Would it even matter if they were hostile?***

Or what of the universally-derided Planet X/Nibiru? Imagine that a brown dwarf star, one that orbits our own sun on a ~3600-year cycle, came burning through the inner solar system, laying waste to everything from our weather to the makeup of our atmosphere itself, blocking out the sun, tossing our moon away, literally setting our sky on fire.  For months it grows in the night sky, then the daytime sky - undeniable, unavoidable - while panic and disorder rise, across the globe, without ceasing.

I'm not saying either of these will happen, and certainly not on Sept 23rd of this year.  I'm saying that when Jesus states in Luke 21:26 that
People will be fainting from fear and from the expectation of what is coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken
He's not talking about lunar eclipses and he's not talking about secretive 7-state training exercises. He's not talking about "headline" diseases and he's not talking about an earthquake here or there.  He's talking about events so epic, so universally terrifying, that they are able to unite most of humanity under one demonically ruthless and charismatic man. Events that the elect, his followers who are not deceived, will be literally sacrificed in order for the rest of humanity to avoid.

This is an important point, a critical point: whatever the crisis is, it will have an undeniably religious aspect. It will divide the elect from those under the power of the ruler of this world. It will separate those who gladly receive the mark of the beast from those who will not, even under pain of death. The threat may be real in an existential sense or it may be an enormous, diabolical deception. But it will look real enough to all that denying the consensus response will seem not merely insane, but dangerous and evil. Those who will not go along will be done away with. Everyone will have to consciously choose that day whom he will serve.  Antichrist will attempt to conquer the world, yes, and for a while he will seem to do it with amazing ease. But more importantly he will attempt to mislead it, away from the truth, away from the risen Christ, away from the revealed words of God, to another system that will leave every adherent eternally condemned by the words of his own mouth.
Remember, I have told you ahead of time.
-- Matt 24:25
Jesus says that the Antichrist will arise under circumstances so deceptive that even the elect could be deceived, leading to days so terrible that if God did not shorten them, not a single person would survive. He told us what to look for, and what would happen to us and to the world. He also told us that what's coming is much bigger than Obama or any other political opponent we might imagine. Most importantly, he told us how to escape these things and stand before him, as one of his own.

Be ready. No fear. And don't sweat the little stuff.

* so from this point forward you are invited to ignore everything I say.  This is not what the Bible says, this is just Saturday night noise.
** On the D&D scale of 3-18, I suspect he's going to display INT 23 and CHR 25
*** For maximum deception, I suspect they would play a game of good cop / bad cop to get us to do something. Or they might claim to be Jesus' reapers, here to separate the wheat from the chaff (Matt 13:30), just in a different order. But remember, I'm just speculating.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

On the mark of Cain

This is not the mark
you are looking for
It's not the curse:
Now says the grand father I will not distroy the seed of michal and his wife; and cain I will not kill you, nor suffer any one to kill you, but I will put a mark upon you. What is that mark? you will see it on the countenance of every African you ever did see upon the face of the earth, or ever will see...

I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the preisthood...
-- Mormon Prophet Brigham Young, Feb 5, 1852
What old Mr. Young* said before the Utah Legislature is, unfortunately, representative of that brand of folk theology that has passed down even to the current day. Cain killed his brother, we read, and God cursed him with black skin, everyone knows.  Except what everyone knows ain't necessarily so.

The backstory for the biblically impaired is this: Cain got jealous of his brother and killed him. So God cursed Cain and put a mark on him.  Then chattel slavery**.

So with that in mind we're going to take a little stroll through Genesis 4 to discover exactly what we know and don't know about the curse and the mark of Cain.
...Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering;  but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.
-- Gen 4:2-5
So here we have the setup: sibling rivalry, no doubt.  Cain is a farmer and brings God a nice tray of steamed veggies. Abel brings a plate of steaming-hot mutton, basted in honey.  It has been argued that God rejected Cain's offering because Cain acted from an impure heart, or maybe because God demanded a blood offering in this specific case***.  We don't know why, we only know that Cain got bummed and God gave him a little talking to about attitude (vv 6-7).  Cain then applied this newfound insight by killing his brother (v 8).  Uh-oh.  Houston, we have a problem.

God confronts Cain and Cain utters the famous line about Abel's now-neglected hives, Am I my brother's beekeeper?  God ignored the question and instead laid The Smackdown on Cain.  Here's what he said:
Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.
-- Gen 4:11-12
There's the curse of Cain. What was the curse? That he could no longer farm.  Cain had been a farmer, now the ground that had received his brother's blood would no longer yield anything to him.

That's also the whole of the curse. Cain was fired and he would never work outside this town again. He would have a brown thumb. Sow as he might, he would never, ever reap. Not even a mustard seed.  It would suck for a farmer, no doubt. But that is the curse of Cain and the whole of it. There is no indication it would apply to his descendants or anyone but Cain.

Still, as you might imagine, getting fired from your first job by God is a pretty hard thing to take, even if it's not on TV. Cain was nonplussed:
Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 
-- Gen 4:13-4
Cain didn't expect the best of luck in his future endeavors, though it could have been worse: God might have simply killed him.  Or maybe this was worse. For Cain, living in a time where only one man had ever died, now had to live in constant fear that Abel's sons and daughters and nieces and nephews and maybe even parents might decide to do him in once and for all.  They might even think they were doing God's will in offing the cursed, murderous old vagabond.

Despite the righteous rationalizations of would-be assassins, if God wanted Cain killed, he would have done it himself. So upon further review, God did something else to Cain:
So the Lord said to him, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him. 
-- Gen 4:15
As the KVJ says, the Lord set a mark upon Cain. So what was this mark or sign that God puts on Mr. Not-a-Farmer?  We simply do not know.  Besides black skin, a popular guess in the Mormon Church 17-19th century western world, others have proposed it was a little internal beacon of hope or maybe a forehead tattoo that marked Cain as God's personal property.  Pastor extraordinaire Ray Stedman suggested it was a hangdog face that made Cain look so pathetic no one could possibly kill him. The breadth of the guesses is a clue to how little we actually know.****

I suspect that any mark that made him stand out would make him more of a target than less.  But I don't know because the Bible doesn't say.  Anyone who tells you that they know what the mark is is speculating, no matter how confident their tone. 

But for those who claim to know, their claims must correspond with what we do know about it -- the reason for it and its effects -- to be taken seriously. In other words, any proposed "mark of Cain" must conform to the following truths:
  1. The mark/sign must be protective*****. The mark was appointed to keep Cain safe among people with good reason to kill him. God promised to visit personal vengeance seven times on anyone who killed Cain and the mark was evidence of that promise.
  2. The mark/sign must be only for Cain.  Not only is there no indication that it was genetic or heritable; given its nature of protecting Cain from the consequences of his personal guilt there is no reason that it might be.
  3. The mark/sign must display a work of mercy on God's part.  God cursed Cain, and when Cain appealed that judgment, God gave Cain the mark.  The mark is not the curse: it is a protection from some of the curse's logical effects.
I don't pretend to know what the mark of Cain is.  But if anyone does claim to know, and their claims don't follow what the Bible tells us about it, I submit to you that they are pretending as well.

* Who when he arrived in Salt Lake City was the Governor, the Prophet, and the President of the only bank in town. No wonder he had so little time to read his Bible.
** Profit!
*** Even though grain offerings would be fine later (c.f. Lev 2)
**** Plus we're completely ignoring the speculative hoops we must jump through to get Cain's descendants to the dry side of Noah's flood and into sub-Saharan Africa, whence Virginian tobacconists could offer them long-term employment contracts.
***** Black skin turns out to be not especially protective, fwiw.