Weekend Edition: 7-31

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubez

  • Hard-Rock Existentialism: The Megalith As A Beach-Head Of Being (“Monoliths, and objects like them, …. [are] a testament to the fact that whoever carved and placed them was, like you, faced with the impossible task of trying to make sense of it all, to make meaning in a meaningless world, to not be overwhelmed by the absurdity and anxiety of existence.”)

Blog Quote of the Week

  • “If you need Snopes to tell you that Joe Biden did not admit to ‘sucking the blood out of kids’ (or you need Snopes to tell you that he doesn’t actually do it either), you are already lost.”

Nonbookish Linkage

Bookish Linkage

[N]o one was interested in the facts. They preferred the invention because this invention expressed and corroborated their hates and fears so perfectly.

James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

How Hitler became Germany’s “supreme judge”

German shipyard worker Ewald Schlitt probably didn’t know a Berlin newspaper reported his March 1941 assault conviction in a court 275 miles away from the capital. His misfortune was that Adolf Hitler read the article.

In the summer of 1940, Schlitt’s wife of three years confessed to a sexual relationship with another man. She ended up in a nursing home due to injuries suffered during the couple’s violent argument. She contracted intestinal flu there and died in October 1940. Unable to establish that Schlitt caused her death, a court in Oldenberg found him guilty of assault and gave him the maximum five-year sentence on March 14, 1941.

On March 22, Hitler read about the case in the Berliner Nachtausgabe (“Berlin Night Edition”). Believing the punishment too lenient, a furious Hitler almost immediately set about to become Germany’s “Supreme Law Lord.” He intended to finally eliminate whatever remnant of judicial independence existed in the country.

When the Nazis came to power, they quickly moved to gain control over the legal system. Immediately following the Reichstag Fire on February 27, 1933, a decree was issued suspending civil liberties. On March 24, the Reichstag adopted the so-called “Enabling Act.” Not only did it allow Hitler’s government to enact laws without the Reichstag’s approval, but those laws could “deviate from the constitution.”

The Nazis also moved to control the legal system. By May 1933, all traditional bar associations, including the German Federation of Judges, were dissolved and replaced by the Nazi Party’s National Socialist German Jurists’ League. Beginning in August 1934, judges’ oaths said, “I will be loyal and obedient to the Fuehrer.” Likewise, in February 1936, the law required attorneys to swear to “remain loyal to the Fuehrer.”

Hitler abhorred lawyers and judges and, to his anger, these actions didn’t exterminate judicial independence. After reading the Schlitt article, Hitler immediately called Franz Schlegelberger, the acting Minister of Justice, and demanded the sentence be revised. Two days later, Schlegelberger wrote Hitler that he agreed and filed an “extraordinary objection” with the Reich Supreme Court. The court quashed the sentence and, following a four-and-a-half-hour trial on March 31, sentenced Schlitt to death. The 29-year-old met the guillotine two days later.

Hitler previously complained about certain judicial decisions. For example, in 1941, Hitler was agitated by newspaper articles reporting prison terms for a 19-year-old purse snatcher and a 74-year-old man who hoarded eggs. He told the Ministry of Justice that both should be sentenced to death. The court did not change the 19-year-old’s sentence but, the day after Hitler’s complaint, the egg hoarder was “handed over to the Gestapo for purpose of execution.”

The Schlitt case was the final straw for Hitler. He was tired of his will not dictating judicial decisions. “I need men for judges who are deeply convinced that the law ought not to guarantee the interests of the individual against those of the State,” he told his inner circle on March 29, 1942. He called a special session of the Reichstag for Sunday, April 26.

Hitler’s Reichstag speech was to review the war’s during the past winter. But he also used it to become Oberster Gerichtsherr (“Supreme Judge”). Near the end of the speech, Hitler said he expected to be able to remove any person who, in his view, “failed to do his duty.” He then specifically discussed Schlitt’s five-year sentence, although he didn’t mention Schlitt’s later received the death penalty. “From now on, I shall intervene in these cases and remove from office those judges who evidently do not understand the demand of the hour,” he announced.

Only official portrait of Hitler (Heinrich Knirr, 1937)

By convening the Reichstag, he obtained a rubber stamp for his objective. The body unanimously voted that Hitler’s roles, including Supreme Judge, required he be able to act “without being bound by existing legal regulations.” Hitler also was entitled, “regardless of so-called well established rights,” to remove anyone from their position “without using prescribed procedures.” The Reichstag would not meet again before the war, and Hitler now had carte blanche over the judiciary.

Reports came to the Ministry of Justice that judges were disturbed and alarmed by Hitler’s speech and the Reichstag’s action. Schlegelberger testified at the third Nuremberg War Crimes trial (known as “the Justice Case”) that he considered the address a “brutal” personal attack. He said that when reporting the judges’ concern, he also told Hitler he intended to protect any judge who followed the law. Hitler said his officials must carry out their duties without any criticism and suggested Schlegelberger resign, he testified.

Hitler replaced Schlegelberger with Otto Georg Thierack on August 20, 1942. That same day he issued a decree authorizing Thierack to use “all necessary measures” to establish a Nazi justice system. Thierack was to follow Hitler’s directives and instructions. “In doing so, he can deviate from any existing law,” the decree concluded.

Thierack quickly launched a method of bringing the judiciary into line. On September 7, he announced that all judges and prosecutors would get Richterbriefe (“Judges’ Letters”). The letters would illustrate how “National Socialist justice should be applied” by discussing various court decisions. The letters would be confidential and, he advised, “let every judge and public prosecutor take notice of them.”

On October 1, 1942, the first letter advised that judges were the “direct assistant” to Hitler and should not “cling slavishly to the letter of the law.” As in ensuing letters, he championed Nazi doctrine and urged utter ruthlessness in sentencing. For example, in that first letter, he said three of five punishments for crimes committed during a blackout were too lenient; the other two were death sentences. In criticizing three cases against Jews, Thierack said Jews were “the enemy of the German people,” whose “racial aspect must be considered in meting out punishment.”.

Although saying judges were to remain independent, Thierack wrote that “the State can and must lay down the general line of policy, which judges must follow.” Despite saying there was no intent to influence judges, a November 17, 1942, letter explicitly told judges that the letters should be “carefully locked up” as they were “subject to official secrecy.” In another letter that same day, Thierack directed that judges and prosecutors “suspected of political unreliability” not get the letters.

Thierack thought the Richterbriefe successful enough that he started “Lawyers’ Letters” in 1944. They were to “inform lawyers of the aims of the administration of justice.” Thierack wasted no time doing so. The first letter told lawyers they no longer represented just the criminal defendant’s interests but had “enhanced” obligations to the community. Anyone not ready to “clearly and absolutely” accept that proposition or act accordingly should not be a criminal defense lawyer or appear in court, he said.

In one case the letter discussed, Thierack said it was “outrageous” an attorney compared his Czech client’s speech praising National Socialism with Hitler’s views. Similarly, he opined an attorney’s argument that his client hadn’t insulted a woman whose son died recently in the war was saying there was no protection for the honor of those killed in action and their families.

The Justice Case tribunal ruled the Nazis built their justice system on the principle that Hitler had absolute, incontestable power to enforce and adjudicate the law. “Hitler was not only the supreme legislator, he was also the supreme judge,” they wrote. They decried the judges’ and lawyers’ letters. They called the former “sinister,” aimed at “regimenting the judges and chief prosecutors and making them subservient” to Hitler’s aims. The former suggested attorneys not criticize the Nazi system of justice and “refrain from too much ardor in the defense of persons charged with political crimes.”

Although initially a primary target in the case, Thierack apparently feared uncowed judges. Arrested after the war, he committed suicide in October 1946 while in British custody. Schlegelberger went trial but also avoided the death penalty. The Justice Case tribunal called him a “tragic character” who sold his intellect to Hitler. Convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity on December 4, 1947, the 74-year-old received a life sentence. He was released in January 1951 due to ill health but lived until December 1970.

Hitler’s asserted all-inclusive and unlimited power. It was intolerable that a judge might reach a different decision than him.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (April 16, 1963)

(Originally published at History of Yesterday)

Weekend Edition: 7-24 (+1)

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubez

  • The New COVID Panic (“Even with these very effective vaccines, there are still going to be infections—herd immunity is a long game, not a short one—and some of those infections are going to be severe. There are even going to be a very small percentage of vaccinated people who die[.]”)

Nonbookish Linkage

Bookish Linkage

The problem arises when irrational thought and attendant behavior fill the vacuum left by ignorance.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Sky Is Not the Limit

The religious cult with a puppet diety

Throughout history, humans worshiped hundreds of deities. The cult of Glycon, a human-headed snake, arose in second-century Asia Minor. Founded by Alexander of Abonoteichus around 160 CE, the religion worshiped Glycon for a century or more after Alexander’s death. It was all a fraud. Glycon’s human head was a sock puppet.

All we know of Alexander comes from Lucian of Samosata, a Syrian writer. At the request of a friend, Lucian told Alexander’s story in a letter around 180 CE, about ten years after Alexander’s death. The letter makes plain Lucian’s contempt for Alexander, calling him “a man who does not deserve to have polite people read about him, but rather to have the motley crowd in a vast amphitheater see him being torn to pieces by foxes or apes.” Physical evidence, though, confirms the existence of Glycon’s cult.

Alexander was born around 105 CE in Abonoteichus (now ?nebolu, Turkey), a Black Sea port. Lucian claims Alexander was a child prostitute. He was part of a traveling medicine show as a young man, “practicing quackery and sorcery, and ‘trimming the fatheads,'” according to Lucian. He and another man went to a part of Macedonia with many large, “tame and gentle” snakes. They bought one of the best as part of a scheme to create a prophetic shrine and oracle.
They traveled to Chalcedon, now part of Istanbul, and buried bronze tables in a temple to Apollo. The tablets said Apollo and his son Asclepius, the god of medicine, would soon dwell in Abonoteichus. The tale quickly spread, and Abonoteichus began building a temple to host those gods.

Following his return home, Alexander one night buried a goose egg in the mud around the new temple’s foundations. The next morning he ran into the marketplace clad only in a loincloth, jumped atop an altar, and loudly proclaimed the physical presence of Asclepius was about to appear. Alexander then ran to where he’d buried the egg, followed by a crowd. Praying to Asclepius and Apollo, he pulled out the egg and broke it open. When a tiny snake fell into his hand, the crowd shouted, welcomed the god, and began praying to him. Alexander took the snake home and secluded himself.

Growing crowds, “all of them already bereft of their brains and sense,” Lucian wrote, surrounded the house. After a few days, Alexander let people in. He sat with the large Macedonian snake coiled around this neck, the tail extending over his lap onto the floor. The head, though, was under his arm. Alexander held a snakehead with a human appearance in the dimly lit space where the head should be. The head was linen. painted to look “very lifelike.” Alexander used horsehair to open and close the mouth and dart a forked black tongue in and out. Alexander proclaimed, “Glycon am I, the grandson of Zeus, bright beacon to mortals!”

With the snake emerging from the egg only days before, its growth appeared immense. Moreover, it had a human head and seemed entirely under Alexander’s control. People could touch the snake, but not the head, to verify it was real. The tale soon brought people from broad areas of Turkey and Greece.

Word of the cult spread as the temple neared completion. Alexander announced Glycon would begin making prophecies. He told people to write in a scroll what they wanted to know and seal the scroll. Alexander took the scrolls into the now completed temple. Lucian described various methods Alexander used to open the seals covertly. Alexander answered the questions, resealed the scrolls, and returned them. The recipients, of course, were amazed. Oracles like Glycon didn’t work for free. Lucian reports that each question cost 1 1/3 drachma, and Alexander brought in 70,000–80,000 drachma a year. Historians estimate that the traditional value of a drachma was one day’s pay for a skilled worker.

Statuette of Glycon in Museum of Anatolian Civilizations

Alexander also knew how to keep people interested. He later announced Glycon would make his prognostications aloud. Lucian reports he passed a tube made of crane windpipes through the head. Someone outside the room answered the questions by speaking spoke into the tube, giving the puppet a voice. Oral predictions didn’t come “promiscuously,” Lucian wrote, “but only to those who were noble, rich, and free-handed.”
There also were so-called “nocturnal” responses. Alexander said he slept on the scrolls, and Glycon provided replies in his dreams.

The prophecies varied. Many spoke of success and good fortune, while others dealt with treating illnesses. Some, according to Lucian, were “obscure and ambiguous, sometimes downright unintelligible.” He also claims Alexander was not above issuing later predictions negating or superseding ones that had proved wrong.

With the money Glycon was bringing in, Alexander hired agents to spread the word of the cult. The oracle’s fame attracted the support of the Roman proconsul of Asia, who later married Alexander’s daughter. The proconsul helped the cult spread to Rome, where it even attracted Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Some of Alexander’s agents tipped him off about the questions he would receive or the questioner’s wishes. Some of the questions, particularly from prominent people, revealed incriminating information, and Lucian says Alexander wasn’t above using it for blackmail.

Still, Glycon was successful enough that the cult continued to spread even after Alexander’s death around 170 CE. Its followers stretched from the Danube to the Euphrates and lasted for at least another century, although the snake god was now abstract, not palpable.

Lucian’s account makes a case for why it may not be wholly objective. He described the philosopher Epicurus as “truly saintly and divine in his nature, [and] who alone truly discerned right ideals.” In contrast, Lucian said “lying, trickery, perjury, and malice” suffused Alexander’s character. Epicureans steadfastly denounced Alexander’s trickery, and he vehemently denounced them. Still, Lucian’s account seems to go beyond mere philosophical combat.

He reports that Alexander considered him a “bitter enemy.” Moreover, when the two met in person, Lucian took Alexander’s hand as if to kiss it. Instead, Lucian “almost crippled it with a right good bite.” Lucian also claims that when Alexander provided him a ship and crew to return home, the ship’s captain admitted Alexander instructed them to murder Lucian and throw his body into the sea.

Whatever antipathy existed between the two men, the factual basis of Alexander and Glycon is firmly established, according to author R. Bracht Branham. The Antonine Plague, believed to be either smallpox or measles, swept the Roman Empire beginning in 165 CE. Around that time, there was an inscription in Antioch reading, “Glycon protect us from the plague-cloud.”

Several coins show Glycon on one side and the likeness of various Roman emperors who ruled from 160 to the middle of the third century on the other. Many of the coins bear the legend “Glykon” and “Ionopolis” (which Abonoteichus was later named). In addition, statuettes of Glycon are in various museums, including in Ankara and Athens.

“There is no known instance in the pagan world in which a single ‘religious genius’ achieved success equal to that of Alexander,” wrote Branham in his book, Unruly Eloquence. Making it all the more outlandish is the cult was worshiping a sock puppet.

It is time that we admitted that faith is nothing more than the license religious people give one another to keep believing when reasons fail.

Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

(First published at History of Yesterday)

Weekend Edition: 7-17

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubez

  • We Could Have Changed the World (“The pandemic laid bare the speed at which societal change can occur when the threat is big enough. Conversely, society’s reopening is revealing just how quickly we can slide back into complacency.”)

Blog Quote of the Week

  • “The South Dakota GOP has wielded so much power for so long that we’re becoming an incubator of thought so appallingly un-American and un-Christian, but yet so impossible to discuss without dangerously being labeled an enemy or communist or even un-Christian yourself.”

Nonbookish Linkage

  • Per the Blog Quote of the Week, this will exceed our whackjob capacity
  • A Norwegian company is building a Global Music Vault to preserve the world’s most important music recordings

Bookish Linkage

Every ounce of my cynicism is supported by historical precedent.

Glenn Cook, Shadow Games