That Isis Might Make Free

th  Followers of ISIS destroying statuary

The title of this post is the first line of an Egyptian prayer, asking the goddess Isis to free a patient from illness. Isis is very much in the news lately, but ironically, only as the English-language acronym for an organization that calls itself the Islamic State. It is best known for beheading and/or burning people alive, raping and enslaving female captives, and—this week—taking sledgehammers to pre-Islamic art.

We in the West are horrified. We would never do such things. Except that we did, and do. The Old Testament is loaded with praise for kings and prophets who slaughter polytheists and smash their religious images. In the Christian era, the destruction of pagan books and art continued; even in the 21st Century, certain U.S. churches have torched copies of the Harry Potter books and the Qur’an. It’s true that we don’t burn heretics at the stake anymore, at least not officially. I guess dropping napalm on the Vietnamese, or white phosphorus on the Iraqis, doesn’t count.

aemilianus St. Aemilianus & his followers destroying pagan art

Jews and Christians are still taught to celebrate the massacre on Mt. Carmel. According to the Bible, the prophet Elijah ordered a mob of his followers to murder the Tyrian pagan priests and priestesses who were praying for rain. I write about this event in The Stars in their Courses:

The Tyrians began to dance more quickly, the chant contracted into a single throbbing wail: “Mercy! Mercy!” The sun was higher now, and their foreheads shone with perspiration. Someone must have given a signal, because all at once they flourished small curved knives and cut their forearms. Human blood dripped onto Yahweh’s altar and into the thirsty, sacred soil. Elijah thought he could smell it. Damn them!

“Now!” Elijah leaped up and ran to the summit, holding his staff overhead, howling “Aliens out!”

His followers sprang from their concealments. Within seconds they had surrounded the Tyrians. The lead priestess turned toward them in fury. “How dare you!”

A laborer slapped her face. She raised her hand, brandishing the ritual knife, and he smashed his staff into the side of her head, so hard Elijah heard the cracking of bone. She crumpled like a punctured goatskin. The other Tyrians screamed.

A farmer raised his sickle and swung it in a flashing arc that amputated the hand of a Tyrian priest whose little blade was no defense, exposing an instant of white bone that drowned in a fountain of bright blood spouting a cubit in the air at first, then diminishing as the priest’s veins emptied.

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