aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 17: No Earthly Parents I Confess

Said the night wind to the little lamb,
Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, little lamb,
Do you see what I see?
A star, a star, dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite
— Noël Regney, Do You Hear What I Hear?

February 25, 1976
Colorado Springs

Picture a maiden lost in the hills.

“Maiden” can mean either “young woman” or “virgin”. Its Greek and Hebrew equivalents have the same ambiguity, which is why some people think the person we call the Virgin Mary was actually supposed to be the Young Woman Mary – which might change the significance of her subsequent pregnancy a bit. People grew up faster, back in the days when they spoke of “maidens”. Mary was probably only fourteen when she gave birth.

I am a kabbalist. Words matter. Nowadays we have replaced “maiden” with “teenage girl”. A maiden and a teenager are the same thing, but their names drag different tracks through lexical space, stir up different waters. Synonymity aside, some young women are maidens and others are teenagers. The girl in our story was definitely a maiden, even though it was the 1970s and being a maiden was somewhat out of fashion.

So: picture a maiden lost in the hills.

She was hiking with her brother in the hills of Colorado; while he dozed off in a meadow, she had wandered off exploring. She had gotten lost, and decided to climb a hill to see what she could see from the top. But the hill had been higher than she had first judged, and it had grown dark, and now she sat upon the summit and looked out at the stars.

Violently they shone, far brighter than in the lamplit valleys of her home, so white they were almost blue. The Milky Way shone a phosphoric ribbon, and the cracks in the sky made a glowing lattice like a spiderweb of light.

There was another power in Heaven tonight. Behold Comet West, the Great Comet of 1976. It shot exultant through the winter sky, laughing as it felt the void against its icy skin. It flamed over peaks and rivers and countries and oceans, until at last it flew over the Continental Divide and reached its namesake. The true West strong and free. And there it alit upon the highest of the Rocky Mountains, pausing in contemplation, and no one but our maiden saw it land.

The Great Comet appeared in the aspect of an old man with long flowing white hair tossed about by the wind, winged with many wings. And though he was larger far than a man, larger even than the mountain that he sat upon, by some enchantment the maiden was not afraid.

And she spoke, saying: “Who are you?”

And he answered: “I am Comet West.

“I am the Comet, the spanner in the works of Destiny. All things orbit in circles according to their proper time and pattern, save the Comet. I shoot through unplanned and unpredicted.

“And I am the West. I am the setting-sun, the twilight of the gods, the coming night. I am the scarlet fires of dusk, the blaze before the blackness. I am the cradle of civilization and its executioner. I am the ending of all things in beauty and fire.

“I am Comet West. I am both of these things. Are you afraid of me?”

And the maiden said “No,” for she was not afraid.

And the Comet said: “Then I will shine on you.”

And the maiden said: “Shine.”

And for a moment the Comet shone on her with its full light, and she shivered with cold. And then the light receded, and she was alone beneath a thousand violently bright stars and a single baleful comet.

And then she slept and then her brother found her and then she went back to the bright electric lights of civilization and then she dismissed the whole thing as a dream.

I am a kabbalist. Words matter. They used to call it virgin birth. But “virgin” means “maiden” and “maiden” means “teenager”, and so over time the phrase became “teenage pregnancy”.

About four months later, it was noticed that our maiden had a teenage pregnancy.

At this point the myth becomes incomprehensible without relating a previous myth from the same epic cycle. A few years earlier there had been a great cosmic battle between two giants named Roe and Wade. For over a year they fought a strange form of ritual combat, without swords, without blood, until finally Roe gained the victory. And the nine black-robed Destinies who silently watched the combat were so delighted that they declared a great boon to humankind: that the Curse of Eve should be rescinded, that no longer would Woman be forced through painful labor to give birth to children, but rather she might bear sons and daughters at her own pleasure only.

(others tell this myth differently, but they are not kabbalists)

The discussion turned to whether she would keep the pregnancy. Because she happened to be an Indian-American girl (a Hindoo maiden?) she and her family rejected the gift of the nine black-robed Destinies. The doctors told her she was too young, the baby was growing too big too fast, it wasn’t safe. But she was stubborn, as her parents were stubborn, as her child would one day be stubborn.

And so in November 1976, behold, a virgin conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Jalaketu.

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131 Responses to Chapter 17: No Earthly Parents I Confess

  1. David says:

    Comet King origin story?

    • JGFC says:

      Probably, considering the ‘Sohu West’ from ch. 16

    • LHC says:

      Comet West would be the Comet King, I believe. It is certainly not Jalaketu, unless we are to believe that Sohu was conceived when her father was about five.

    • Sohu was eight in 1991, which means he would have had her when he was four… Either he grew up unnaturally fast (hinted by the doctors’ comments), or the daughter theory deniers were right all along.

    • Galle says:

      One possibility that I don’t think has been brought up – perhaps Sohu is not the Comet King’s DAUGHTER, but his SISTER, and the Comet King was merely the eldest of the Cometspawn.

      Either way, it’s clear that the Comet King was definitely one of the characters in this chapter, so yes, Comet King origin story.

      • rossry says:

        Reminder that Uriel/Sohu conversation in 16 strongly implied that Sohu’s father is TCK:

        “Well, I think you’re wrong. Father believes God will save us.”

        “HE BELIEVES THAT HE WILL SAVE US, AND PLANS TO CREDIT GOD. THERE IS A DIFFERENCE.”

        • Galle says:

          And later chapters also indicate that the Comet King was an active force in 1990, which would make Jala awfully young for the job.

          Nevertheless, I’m still not convinced that Comet West is the Comet King. They just seem to have very different personalities.

          • Galle says:

            (Also, this chapter spends an awful lot of time talking about Jalaketu’s immaculate conception, and the standard interpretation so far has been that the Comet King was the Messiah)

          • Sniffnoy says:

            I don’t think that’s the standard interpretation at all. The Comet King died. He didn’t accomplish what the Messiah is supposed to.

          • Good Burning Plastic says:

            Interlude Waw explicitly says “We thought [the Messiah] came forty years ago [i.e. around 1977], in Colorado, but apparently we were unworthy.”

          • Nestor says:

            Sniffnoy> Messiahs dying kinda comes with the territory.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            That rather depends on your religion! This is a Jewish Messiah we’re talking about.

      • MugaSofer says:

        That would fit the reference to “the West children”.

  2. 75th says:

    “Jalaketu” seems to mean “Star that appears in the West” or some such. Pretty straightforward.

    • burntvictory says:

      Looks more like “of a comet”, though ofc it depends on exactly which vowels are being represented, and multiple meanings might well be intended: http://www.sanskrita.org/wiki/index.php?title=jala#jal.C3.A1-ketu_.5B_jalaketu_.5D

      Also, this might be a coincidence, but the first thing I thought of when I heard the name was Svetaketu (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shvetaketu), who I vaguely recalled as a Hindu figure but apparently was pretty important, potentially in relevant ways: “The Upanishads entail the journey of Shvetaketu from ignorance to knowledge of the self and truth…In the Mahabharata, Shvetaketu is credited for creating the practice of the “woman being confined to one husband for life” after observing a brahmana catching his mother’s hand (unintentionally) in front of his father.”

      • od says:

        I was surprised to see the meaning provided at that link. The word ‘jala’ means water and I immediately understood the name as water-star. If you pronounce the first word as jāl it would mean ‘net’ and that doesn’t work either. I couldn’t find any combination of ‘jala’ + ‘ketu’ that might mean comet in my sanskrit dictionary and anywhere else on the net apart from that link.

        Jwālaketu *might* work since ketu can be used to mean comet (or star or a planet) and ‘jwāla’ means bright/lit/fire etc. The most commonly used word for comet that I’ve heard in sanskrit-derived languages is dhūmaketu (smoke+star).

        I might be wrong of course. I don’t speak Sanskrit. (Though I do speak two Indian languages heavily influenced by it and derived from it).

        Also, in my experience hindus generally don’t make a big deal about abortion. It doesn’t come up in mainstream conversation much, unless you’re talking about sex-selective abortion which is common enough for the government to make illegal. But then there are a lot of hindus and I’m sure you’ll find some who care for religious reasons.

        • burntvictory says:

          Well, that’s a lot more domain-relevant knowledge than I have! (Know a few slokas, but no idea on the language itself.) I do think any comet-related meaning we can contort it into (without too much effort) is more likely to be the primary intended one, but maybe there are secrets here…

          Haven’t talked to my relatives about abortion at all, so I’ll take your word for it. (Though agreed that any given opinion [within some suitable set of Overton windows] is probably held by a Hindu somewhere.) Might have been more willing to carry it to term cause a) special baby and b) knew it was a boy from sonograms?

  3. Good Burning Plastic says:

    If the Comet King was conceived in 1976 and Sohu was eight years old in 1990, it’s extremely unlikely she is his daughter.

  4. Eli Rose says:

    Yeah definitely.

  5. Eli Rose says:

    Nothing we’ve seen the Comet King do so far fit in with the idea of being “civilization’s executioner”. Hmmm.

  6. Sniffnoy says:

    Oh, man, points to Daniel Blank for noticing the connection to Comet West last chapter.

    And also to whoever it was that suggested that “Jala” in the Book I title page probably referred to the Comet King, because this seems further confirmation of that.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Found it, it was Chrysophylax on Interlude Zayin.

    • Daniel Blank says:

      I thank you for the points. Also give points to certain commenters on Interlude He, who predicted Interlude Zayin. (Try and find out how yourself).

      • Sniffnoy says:

        As funny as it would be for the Right Hand of God to be called “Neil”, I don’t think it can be Neil Armstrong. He’s still up there saying “oooo” in the 2000s, after all.

        • Daniel Blank says:

          There is further confirmation, but unless Scott lets me, I will refrain from obscure spoilers.

          For now, we have the Kabbalistic meaning of the West. When the East precedes the West, we are told in some interlude that natural equilibria triumph over human endeavor, which fits with the West being “the end of all things in beauty and fire”. When the West precedes the East, we probably have some sort of new beginning, and a victory for humanity.

          Ideas on who in the story is the East?

        • Well, this is “beyond time in Eternity”.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Yeah, I considered that but dismissed it on the basis that time still seems to be working enough that the “ooooo” is heard after he enters the cracks and not before. And, for that matter, that he was able to speak intelligibly at all (rather than the syllables coming out in whatever order). But who knows? (Well, you do, I guess.)

          • Ninmesara says:

            So this means that Neil is the Right Hand of God? What is “beyond time in Eternity”? I don’t get it…

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Neil Armstrong passed “beyond time, into Eternity” when he passed through the cracks. Since he went “beyond time”, notionally, this could allow all sorts of time weirdness — e.g., being down on earth as the Right Hand, and being up beyond the cracks saying “oooo”, at the same time. I am pretty doubtful of this, but we don’t know enough to entirely rule it out.

          • Ninmesara says:

            Hmmm… Ok… It always made sense to me that an astronaut would come back to the earth to be the Comet King (or something like it), but I took the part about the voice being heard as confirmation that Neil had remained up there forever. In this case then time travel is possible. I repeat, TIME TRAVEL IS POSSIBLE (which might be relevant for Ana’s rescue of Aaron).

          • Daniel Blank says:

            I don’t think Neil even had to come down corporeally. He can still be saying “oooo” as he takes control of Kesey.

  7. ton says:

    So kabbalist just means “atheists with a religion alt-history fetish”, apparently.

    • I don’t know how many times I have to use the first-person before everybody realizes that this is being told by Aaron Smith-Teller. Heck, I even made Teller his last name and people still can’t figure out that he’s telling the story.

      Go on and debate the Comet King’s family tree as much as you want, but this part isn’t supposed to be a mystery.

      • ton says:

        I don’t see what this has to do with my comment.

        I’m going off of the “(others tell this myth differently, but they are not kabbalists)” and the … *creative* interpretation of Roe v Wade.

        There’s only so much deadpan you can put into a story before the fourth wall shatters completely.

        • Tasty_Y says:

          It kind of seems like you are treating this chapter as narrated by Scott while it was supposed to be narrated by Aaron?

          • ton says:

            @Tasty_Y

            Maybe atheist wasn’t supported, but the rest was an implication from the words said, regardless of who said them.

          • Good Burning Plastic says:

            @ton:

            But that “history” isn’t “alt-” in Aaron’s universe.

          • ton says:

            @Good Burning Plastic

            “others tell this myth differently”

          • Sniffnoy says:

            ton: “Others tell this myth differently” because they tell it in conventional language — that there was a legal case that went to the US Supreme Court whose 9 justices ruled that abortion couldn’t be banned by the government. (“Because they are not kabbalists.”) Nobody disagrees about what actually happened. I think you’ve fundamentally misread what’s going on here.

          • ton says:

            @Sniffnoy: I understand that Aaron doesn’t actually believe something else happened. I’m referring to his obvious desire to rephrase events in terms of Biblical references.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            OK. In that case, I get your original objection, but am still confused about the “fourth wall” part.

          • ton says:

            @Sniffnoy I feel like I meant something important but can no longer remember what it was. I think my mind refused to believe that such a character is realistic and interpreted that as breaking the fourth wall.

            I can’t really defend it anymore, though.

        • LHC says:

          I will admit that the description struck me as rather partisan, insofar as my kabbalistic interpretation of Roe V Wade would have a different general thrust wherein the giant Roe was a warrior of Moloch.

          • Pku says:

            Yeah, the expedition into Roe v Wade territory kind of ruined this chapter for me. It also seems completely unnecessary, unless it has some plot relevance yet to be revealed.
            (Even aside from that, this chapter was a bit lower-quality after a couple of fantastic chapters before it. Not sure if it’s because Scott was busy this week or just regression to the mean).

          • LHC says:

            Eh, I liked the chapter overall. Roe V Wade part included. It makes perfect sense that this is the explanation Aaron Smith-Teller would have of Roe V Wade.

          • Galle says:

            The description struck me as distinctly nonpartisan, just weird and mythologizing. I guess it COULD be seen as condemning the decision, if you wanted to squint.

          • Pku says:

            I saw it as enthusiastically supporting it (a boon given out of sheer delight?) which… bothered me. Even trying to put aside my pro-life feelings here, it still seems weird and thematically out of place. Reading the chapter, it feels like Scott added it because the chapter was too short and he wanted to tie something else in.

          • It does become relevant later; if the paragraph seems too pro-choice, that’s only to counterbalance my worry that the storyline itself is inherently (and unintentionally) pro-life (ie “But what if that baby you’re thinking of aborting is actually the Messiah?!”)

          • LHC says:

            I wonder if abortion is assisting anybody’s placebomancy.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            As a data point, I thought it was hilarious, setting up the expected comparison to Jesus’s birth and going to Roe instead.

            I’m pro choice, for the record, but if asked the kaballistic significance of the case I’d say something about judicial activism and the collapse of the meta level..

          • Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

            Scott’s comment brings a new speculation: Jalaketu, not fully human and growing fast, becomes aware and knowledgeable in very short order. Like a less terrible blend of Alia from Dune and Renesmee from Twilight. He learns that his mother bore him voluntarily, despite the Ruling of the Nine and doctor’s advice giving her an out. In graditude he voluntarily lives as a human and dedicates his power and wisdom to saving the world.

            I hate to think was his future embitterment would then bring.

            Also, one positive side effect of Uriel’s meddling is fewer comets leaving a trail of unpaid child support bills long after they passed back beyond the moon.

          • Galle says:

            I think the reactions to the abortion thing are mostly just hostile media effect. It’s possible to interpret it both as pro-choice (a boon given out of sheer delight) or as pro-life (mere mortals attempting to overrule God’s judgement) and people seemed to be inclined to interpret it in whichever way is most offensive to them.

          • Calien says:

            Galle- how many of the readers would actually take “mere mortals attempting to overrule God’s judgement” as a bad thing?

        • Sniffnoy says:

          …where is there anything close to fourth-wall breaking here? This is Aaron Smith-Teller recounting Roe v. Wade (which happened in-universe at the same time as in ours) in a, uh, rather nonstandard style. It’s not that in our universe Roe v. Wade happened one way, and in this book it happened with giants fighting in bloodless combat and ending in a literal rescinding of the Curse of Eve; that’s just how Aaron’s telling it.

          Things in the story that are actually fourth-wall breaking: The Ruby on Rails and Spiders Georg jokes in Chapter 9; arguably many of the references in Chapter 5. This isn’t among them.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Oh, and Nixon’s habit of saying “[expletive deleted]”.

          • Deiseach says:

            a literal rescinding of the Curse of Eve

            The Curse of Eve is not child birth as such, it is the pain of delivery (and you could also read it as henceforth husbands having dominion over their wives):

            Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

            This is why in a lot of traditions the divine child is born without his mother suffering the pangs of natural delivery (Buddha, Mohammed, Jesus).

          • Lambert says:

            IIRC, a lot of the rescinding of the Curse of Eve was done by Queen Victoria. Said Curse made anaesthesia during childbirth unpopular as it was seen that pain during childbirth was God’s punishment and thus not to be alleviated. Chloroform was used to reduce the pain of birthing Prince Leopold, popularising the practice.

          • Ninmesara says:

            An abortion can be (and usually is) quite painful too…

        • Randy M says:

          It seems based on a very biased interpretation of what the “curse of Eve” is. Abortion doesn’t eliminate pain in childbirth, it eliminates childbirth, and I recall a lot more women in the bible lamenting barreness than conception. Which makes the kabbalistic frame jarring.

      • At this point, I expect a little semantic zig-zag in the epilogue on how the end of a thing can be either its termination or its culmination, depending on if one adheres to modern or Aristotelian terminology, vis-a-vis the end of the world.

  8. LHC says:

    Does Kanye West exist in this ‘verse?

    (/half-joking)

    • Chris H says:

      Kanye West was born June 8th, 1977. Either in this timeline he’s born early, or (since the Comet King clearly has multiple kids and Comet West is probably the Comet King) it’s not impossible he could have impregnated another maiden in September. Kanye is born shortly after the Comet King shows up and his last name is West? Nothing is ever a coincidence.

  9. LHC says:

    I will also admit that it is *incredibly weird* that RvW even happened in this ‘verse, let alone turned out the same.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Really, it’s incredibly weird that so much of the politics and technology turned out the same, but that’s been kind of a background weirdness for a while.

      • Gurkenglas says:

        The politics and technology that turned out the same probably did so because they represent Adam Kadmon.

        • rossry says:

          I guess this explains everyone’s names being similar but morphed, even as they end up doing the same jobs. (Speaking both of corporations, and the authors on the Ithaca bookshelf.)

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Well, don’t forget that Apple apparently exists in this universe alongside Serpens…

          • rossry says:

            Hold on, wasn’t Serpens the Unsong-universe version of Apple?

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Yes, exactly. Serpens is the theonomic company that’s supposed to correspond to Apple, but Apple also exists. And given the talk of “Windows” in chapter 6, seems like Microsoft probably also exists alongside Microprosopus. So they may be meant to correspond, but it’s evidently not just “they’re the Unsong version of this real-life company”.

          • Good Burning Plastic says:

            I don’t think either Apple or Microsoft is ever mentioned by name in the book, so it might be that Macs are made by Serpens and Windows is made by Microprosopus (though that doesn’t sound particularly likely to me).

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Apple is mentioned by name; see Chapter 6.

    • rossry says:

      This aside, I’m moderately surprised that the names Roe and Wade were maintained verbatim, especially given the ease of shifting them into kabbalistically-adjacent forms.

  10. dsotm says:

    Well either the West children are all the ones conceived by various maidens to anthropomorphic cosmic phenomena
    on secluded hilltops on various occasions* or Jalaketu is going to come of age faster than humans usually do – considering

    the baby was growing too big too fast.

    *Not a basis for a system of government.

  11. LHC says:

    Wait a damn minute, is Comet West an angel? Is Jalaketu a fucking nephilim?

    Beginning to believe that this child is in fact the Comet King. I missed the comment about the child growing too big too fast on my first reading.

    • LHC says:

      Oops, the singular is actually nephil.

    • dsotm says:

      Can also be Elijah the prophet – the canonical Hebrew bible ends with a prophecy that his appearance will announce the end of days, more cabalistically he is also thought of as the ultimate resolver of impasse arguments – i.e. debates that will only be settled at the end of the world.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I suggested earlier there might be nephilim in San Francisco, but if the Comet King is a naphil then it would seem they’re not confined to there…

  12. Luke G says:

    Because I see connections to all things William Blake…

    There’s a famous little exchange that happened between William and his wife-to-be, Catherine:

    >“Do you pity me?” asked Blake.

    >“Yes, I do, most sincerely.”

    >“Then,” said he, “I love you for that.

    >“Well, and I love you.”

    Compare that to:

    >“I am Comet West. I am both of these things. Are you afraid of me?”

    >And the maiden said “No,” for she was not afraid.

    >And the Comet said: “Then I will shine on you.”

    >And the maiden said: “Shine.”

  13. Timothy says:

    The Hindoo Maiden

    The Hindoo Maiden

    There is also “The Hindoo Maiden, a tale, in verse” from the mid-19th century, possibly by one J. A. Churton, which some of those print-on-demand public-domain sellers purport to provide, but I only found listings, not the work itself.

  14. LHC says:

    I wonder what Uriel thought was so embarrassing about Enoch that led him to make it non-canon.

    • dsotm says:

      Btw if the J in Jalaketu is transcripted as H (think ‘Hesus’ in Spanish) then in Hebrew we could spell Jalaketu in the same way as
      הלכתו meaning “His law”, this is somewhat of a stretch though as most of the words that have this phenomena actually start with a Yud – Yarden for Jordan, Yeshu for Jesus etc.

  15. Sniffnoy says:

    Unrelated to anything: I’m kind of hoping Ziz shows up in the story at some point. Everyone knows about Leviathan and Behemoth, but Ziz seems to largely go forgotten…

    • rossry says:

      I mean, Lev and B make appearances in Job, which is the most obvious place to encounter them (for a certain population, at least). The trifold symmetry is satisfying, but I probably wouldn’t have looked for it at all if not for poking around inspired by Worm.

    • paper machine says:

      Oh, believe me, Squaresoft has not forgotten about Ziz.

  16. wot says:

    Comet Godkingbird West, no less.

  17. Beavis says:

    Considering how many Indian Americans there were in 1976, it is likely that she was the only Hindu girl of her age in all of Colorado springs, and her family the only Hindu family in all of Colorado Springs.

  18. The real problem with the supposed prophecy is that “a virgin will conceive” would normally mean “while ceasing to be a virgin.” The problem isn’t really the meaning of the word; I’ve checked every case of the Hebrew word in the Bible, and in fact it is evident in every other case that they are actually talking about virgins, not merely young women.

    • Randy M says:

      Technically conception would always occur at least some moments after virgin was no longer applicable.

      • Rathamnus says:

        The rabbi is needlessly polemical. There is no controversy about the lexical meaning of the word. It means “nubile young woman; maiden; virgin”. I.e. its can be, and is, used in the sense of “virgin”, but not necessarily so. Compare German “Jungfrau” meaning “virgin” but literally translating to “young woman”. More to the point, exactly like Greek “parthenos”. I.e. far from the poor Christians being anxious to cover up that “Matthew crudely misquoted the prophet Isaiah”, Matthew used the Greek word with the exact same meaning (actually, Matthew simply quotes the correct Greek translation from the Septuagint, written 200 years before his time). The point of the NT narrative is along the lines of “you *thought* that Isaiah was merely talking about the firstborn of a young woman, but he was *actually* prophesizing the birth of a divine child born from a literal virgin” — i.e. it’s supposed to be a surprising turn on a well-known biblical passage, it doesn’t rely on Isaiah being unambiguous, quite to the contrary.

        The word as used in Isaiah denotes a “youthful spouse recently married”, i.e. “the notion of unspotted virginity is not that which this word conveys”, as every Christian theologian has been able to simply look up in Geseinus’ lexicon for the past 170 years. The rabbi’s point about the Hebrew lexicon is correct. His points about the Greek translation, “crudely misquoted”, “untenable” and generally “the stakes are high for Christendom” are completely off, betraying ignorance not just about Christianity but even about the (Jewish) Septuagint and frankly embarassing for a site called “outreachjudaism”.

        • Rathamnus says:

          PS, I can never discuss this topic without picturing the fake rabbis in the opening scene of “Snatch” (the 2000 film).

          “The Septuagint scholars mistranslated the Hebrew word for ‘young woman’… … into the Greek word for ‘virgin’. It was an easy mistake to make… … because there was only a subtle difference in the spelling.”

          I find this hilarious, because it is almost exactly the argument here forwarded in seriousness. Actually, the diamond robbers posing as orthodox rabbis in a Guy Ritchie movie have slightly better philology than rabbi Singer of outreachjudaism.org (because at least they correctly attribute the alleged “mistake” to the Septuagint rather than to Matthew)

    • Deiseach says:

      The “trouble” with the prophecy is not whether almah means “young woman” or “virgin”, it’s that the “Actually you know almah means ‘young woman’ not ‘virgin'” started getting traction amongst the kind of nice, liberal, progressive theologians in nice, liberal, progressive churches that were “Yes, we’re Christians but ahahaha we don’t believe in that miracle stuff, we’re sensible modern rational Christians for the 20th century!” (you know, the kind of churches that like to sell themselves as “you don’t have to leave your brains at the door”).

      The kind of “theology” (you can’t even call it that, and calling it “exegesis” gives exegesis a bad name) that came up with such squaring-the-circle notions as “When people referred to the Virgin Mary in her context, they meant Mary the Virgin (Who Had Been Raped) because otherwise it would have been a terrible disgrace for a woman to get pregnant out of wedlock or by another man than her husband, so they were emphasising it wasn’t her fault she got pregnant by rape”. Yes, that’s a real idea I have read online, put forward to deny the Virgin Birth yet again (because we are modern scientific people and we know you don’t get babies without sex and we also know miracles don’t happen and also we want to signal solidarity with women being raped in overseas conflicts by talking about rape as a weapon of war and tying that in to the Roman occupation during Mary’s time).

      To which I say applesauce; if I’m going to have a religion, it’s going to be one with the supernatural left in. Otherwise I won’t bother. And if you want Christianity as Social Work, just drop the Christianity altogether and concentrate on the social work/social justice, there’s plenty of existing structures for you to work within.

      The prophecy within Isaiah probably referred to a specific hoped-for birth in his time, just as Virgil’s forecasting of a hoped-for birth was related to a person of his time, but this has not prevented Christians from using them both as prophecies of Christ’s birth.

      • Nemo says:

        This sort of thing is what I like to call, as I once heard it called in a theological seminar, the “God of the Gaps”, meaning that some would draw a box around everything they do not understand and label it the province of the divine. As human understanding expands, the divine must shrink, in this false duality; see Gallileo for one reaction for this. The above is another, an undercutting of what we understand about the God by what we understand about the world, to the detriment of both. Bad science, and worse theology.

        I think AST’s tendency is to break things into roughly three categories: what he understands (eg. breaking klipot algorithmically), what he understands the use of but not all the mechanics of (eg. Names), and things he doesn’t understand but that’s not going to stop him (eg. how to stay out of trouble, Ana).

      • Rathamnus says:

        Quite. Christianity has many faults, but lack of brains was never one of its problems. Somehow, being brainless has now become the hallmark not only of “Christianity” but also of “Atheism”. Not just in youtube-threads, but even best-selling authors (*cough*God*cough*Delusion) are happy to limit themselves to knock down strawmen and setting up counter-strawmen. I am not sure when this happened, but surely it has to be related to all the “Great Awakenings” which apparently dumped everything connected to Christianity other than a sense of smug solipsistic superiority on your personal quest to be personally saved by Jesus. And somehow as a reaction, anti-religion thought this was somehow normal religion, so fast-forward to the culture-wars where uneducated liberal thugs are stamping on other uneducated evangelicalist thugs, and vice versa, forever.

        @Nemo, the God of the NT is the *opposite* of a God of the Gaps, i.e. the narrative goes out of its way to claim miraculous events for which it is obviously completely out of the question that they would even happen naturally. This is by design, as the “god of the gaps” idea had been floating around the ancient world since at least Epicurus, and the point of the narrative, for better or worse, is to rule out completely that this is the kind of god that it is about.

  19. Lambert says:

    If the maiden is Indian-American, that means that she and/or her family have moved from the east to the west, in a way paralleling Comet West.

    • Nemo says:

      I would have expected, though, that they actually would have moved from west (in The East) to east (in The West), as though meeting the comet, which obviously moves east to west like all the well-ordered celestial bodies. But since names are so important, well, TINAC, B’NIEAC.

  20. bassicallyboss says:

    I know this will seem like a nitpick, but the highest of the Rocky Mountains is Mt. Elbert, which is not visible from Colorado Springs, or even really very close to it. It’s like saying that Monterey is in San Francisco, or that Baltimore is in Philadelphia. On the other hand, Pike’s Peak looms over Colorado Springs. It is nearly as tall as Mt. Elbert, and rather more spectacular; you can see it from 100+ miles away in good weather. I know that this section of story has a sort of legendary, folk tale sort of vibe to it, and is not meant to be taken as literally true. But it was somewhat jarring to imagine the conversation happening when the participants were 80 miles apart, and the fix is so easy (either change the location to “Leadville” or “Twin Lakes,” or change “alit upon the highest of the Rocky Mountains” to “alit among the highest of the Rocky Mountains) that I figured I’d bring it up.

    Having said all that, it really is nice to read a story that’s partially set in my neck of the woods, especially a story that I like.

    • Ah, but maybe during one of Uriel’s weird fixings he knocked a couple of feet of mount Elbert!
      (I don’t actually believe this, and you’re probably right. But if we’re already nitpicking, we’re going to do it right, dammit!)

  21. bassicallyboss says:

    Some interesting language-usage thoughts: I live in Colorado, and the phrase “lost in the hills” was really unusual to read because we don’t have “hills” here. There are raised bits of ground, and we call them hills just like anyone else does, but they don’t really occur in bunches that one would identify as “the hills.”

    We do have mountains. The difference between mountains and hills is that bragging about having climbed Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains is normal, whereas bragging about having climbed Colorado’s 14,0000-foot hills is a good way to start a fight. We do have “foothills,” but those are never really called just “hills.” They always have “foot” in front.

    Anyway, I think the choice of ‘hills’ was right for the story, but these little word choice differences are fun to pick apart. For example, “the mountains” in everyday conversation here connotes much the same as “the hills” does when talking about other places: A place that is relatively wild and sparsely settled but not totally without human influence, like the Scottish Highlands before the 19th century. Whereas “the mountains” has a history of connoting remote and difficult wilderness, far from human activity, and I think it would have carried this sense if Scott had said “A maiden lost in the mountains.”

    I don’t know about elsewhere, but in Colorado at least, the state’s population is mostly on the edge of the plains, smooshed up against the mountains. So here, “foothills” has come to connote the boundary between civilization and wilderness: Rural, with some features of a wild landscape, but within easy reach of humanity.

  22. Joe says:

    Is there a list of character profiles posted anywhere? I’m really enjoying the book but having trouble keeping track up with the different personalities.

    • LHC says:

      I don’t consider this an outright offensive request, but, especially for a book this well-crafted, keeping track of things like characters’ personalities strikes me as the job of every reader.

  23. Peter D says:

    So, should we start searching for Unsong correspondences with Torah as they occur chronologically in the corresponding books? From Genesus we have the “creation” story from the Prologue (“In retrospect, there had been omens and portents”/”In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth“ etc). Then maybe the story of Aaron falling in Unsong captivity corresponding to Joseph’s? And Uriel “sacrificing” Sohu to Thamiel corresponding to the sacrifice of Jacob? There must be more of these, need some time and thinking to uncover.

    Here it looks like the story of Jalaketu not being killed/aborted could correspond to the story of Moses being saved from death by Pharaoh order to kill all Hebrew newborns.

    • Guy says:

      That last works quite well if Jalaketu is the Comet King – like Moses, he does great good, but ultimately fails, curses his god, and dies for his sins, unable to reach the promised land he sought. Also of note with Moses parallels: the people he leads are cursed to wander in the desert for 40 years for their lack of faith. I recall a statement that the world ends at Unix rollover time, ie at the end of 2037. The Comet King’s seder we were shown was in 2001, 36 years before the nominal end of the world. I seem to recall something important happening in 1997, but I couldn’t find it anywhere in the story. It’s also possible that the excessively long March (hah! A long March from Egypt to Israel!), repeating Fridays, and other calendrical instability in the early 70s resulted in those years stretching out an extra four years, such that 1997 was actually 2001, but that seems unlikely. More probably, whatever important event occurred in 1997 was the one that convinced the Comet King that he had failed in his task, and perhaps the event that caused Sohu to leave her apprenticeship (though I wouldn’t be surprised if the Comet King’s doings turned out to be unrelated to Sohu and Uriel’s).

    • Peter D says:

      If you squint you might also see the story of old and barren Sarah unexpectedly producing Jacob in the story of Sarah the computer getting ensouled (with Bill’s computer possibly playing the role of banished Hagar)

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