Monday, May 11, 2009

Asael IV

Introduction, Prologue, I, II, III

Asael put his hands down on the copy of Peaceful Tidings and gave Kuphdin a full-jawed grin. “Considering this new political situation maybe we could do a full study of this book. Then we could write to Reland and suggest corrections. This could be the start of a wonderful correspondence.”

“Grammaritical-theological diplomacy. I think you may be on to something,” mused Kuphdin. “Of course that will have to wait. Books need to be tended and you have exams to pass.”

And with that Asael knew that the morning political banter was at an end and that the day’s work needed to began in earnest. After loading the cart, Asael proceeded through the library with Kuphdin trotting behind. The library had long ago been designed with an eye more for maximizing space than for allowing access, a proposition that Kuphdin readily endorsed. Within the cavernous main room of the library, the shelves leaped up over fifteen amot.[1] A trip to the upper reaches of these shelves usually required the use of a ladder. It had been several years since Kuphdin was able to climb a ladder without difficulty and Asael was fairly proficient at climbing up the shelf edges while carrying books in a side bag. Asael was more than ten amot in the air reshelving when Kuphdin interjected with the day’s lesson. “In the legal codex of Tuvya bar Maimon, Tanya Oraitha,[2] he says quite explicitly that the body of a nachri could make someone ritually impure.”

Kuphdin was a strong believer in thinking on one’s feet or in this case with one’s feet hanging on a bookshelf at twice a man’s height from the ground. Asael mumbled something about the unfairness of the situation under his breath where Kuphdin could not hear. He had waged his entire defense yesterday on insisting on the absolute authority of the Tanya Oraitha to which Kuphdin was not satisfied. “I thought that the Tanya Oraitha was only fit for upstart youths in need of their tongues fried in olive oil.”

“Oh,” said Kuphdin, “but one must always be diligent in responding to upstart youths and other heretics in case a handy frying pan is not in service.”

“It would seem,” said Asael in a gruff lectural voice quoting a text almost verbatim, “that it all depends on the definition of ritual impurity. There is the ritual impurity of a human corpse, there is the ritual impurity of dead animals, the ritual impurity of insects and rodents and finally there is the ritual impurity of vessels that have touched a dead body. The bodies of human beings can be rendered to be ritually impure as they will one day be resurrected. As such the body is viewed as if something was lacking, in this case a soul. Since nachrin do not merit the resurrection of the world to come their bodies are regarded as if they are complete. Obviously bar Maimon could not have meant to say that nachrin would merit the future resurrection. He must therefore have been referring to the ritual impurity of insects and rodents.”

Kuphdin cut in. “You have misquoted Ibrahim Dawd;[3] it should be that the bodies of nachrin are like animals.”

Asael leaned his head backwards and grinned down at Kuphdin. “I am feeling remarkably pious today so I decided that Dawd’s words should be amended to take into account our more modern climate. In his day maybe it was acceptable to only compare to nachrin to animals. Today we have grown arrogant enough to view them as insects and rodents.”

The desk-bell rang as one of the monks of the Order entered. Kuphdin went to deal with the visitor, leaving Asael to continue shelving. Asael, reflecting a little too deeply on the morning's discourse, let his foot slip from the edge leaving him dangling in the air with one hand gripping the top shelf. The prospect of falling brought forth a burst of laughter from Asael; a high-pitched animal like laugh, wheezing inward and outward. The sound of Asael’s laughter reached Kuphdin as he was in middle of dealing with Yeshu bar Korcha, the monastery’s, young herbalist who was looking for some books on the use of Mullein and Lobelia. “Please excuse the racket; orangutans really do make wonderful librarians so I hear. They just require a bit of breaking in. I will get your material for you.”

Kuphdin trudged back to where Asael was hanging. As Asael moved to regain his footing, his copy of the Oraitha slipped from his pocket and fell near to where Kuphdin was standing. Kuphdin picked it up. The Oraitha was open to the cover page. On the cover page was a glossy print; the kind that was fashionable in older books. It was a scene of the faithful being burned at the stake. The martyrs joyfully played trumpets as they awaited their ascent into heaven to join the angels. Above the picture, in faded ink, was written, in a tight formal hand: “Asael bar Serariah.”

“You dropped something of yours.”

Asael looked down. “How many times do I have to tell you? It is not mine. I am simply acting as a watchman for my uncle.”

“If you are a watchman than which of the four types are you?”

Asael paused to ponder that one. “I admit that I am not really certain. I am certainly not a paid watchman nor am I a renter. I guess you can say that I am a borrower since I have the use of the object. That would make me responsible for all forms of damage. Except that I never asked to use it. That leaves me as an unpaid watchman. I guess as long as I am not negligent I am not liable for it being lost or stolen.”

[1] Measurement of length. A single amah, a hand span, is approximately a foot and half.
[2] Lit. Teaching of the Oraitha. Tuvya bar Maimon, who lived approximately three centuries after the founding of the Khazar state, was renowned as a legal scholar and philosopher. As a foundational text in Roi’ana jurisprudence the Tanya Oraitha is something that cannot be ignored. As to the universalism of bar Maimon’s philosophy, Roi’-Ana scholars of the more conservative school have done their best to sweep it under the carpet.
[3] A fourth century conservative commentator on the work of bar Maimon, responsible for removing all charges of heresy against bar Maimon, leading to his general acceptance within Roi’ana legal thought.

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