Sunday, June 26, 2022

NT Wright's Criterion of Double Similarity, Double Dissimilarity

NT Wright
I was recently asked about a criterion for assertaining the historicity of the gospels which the British scholar Tom Wright developed.  I believe that criterion, which he called "Double Similarity, Double Dissimilarity," is a powerful analytic tool for testing the earliest writings about Jesus.  One may also apply it to records about other historical figures, like the Analects of Confucius. 

Here is the description I gave of that criterion from my 2016 book, Jesus is No Myth: The Fingerprints of God on the Gospels. This is the whole of Chapter Eight.  You can find Wright's original discussion in Jesus and the Victory of God.  


Chapter Eight: Double Similarity, Double Dissimilarity

Big events do mold us, but aside from death (and then we shall see), after the initial wave passes, life usually regains equilibrium. 

You marry.  A year later, you are blessed with a child.

What has changed?  In a way, everything.  Not long before, you cooked instant noodles over a Benson Burner, let moss colonize the grease on top of the stove, and scoffed with contemptuous detachment at mismatched socks.  Then you met that special person.  You put on your best, learned fine dining or a “great burger joint,” watched your table manners, and stopped wearing old t-shirts, and used them to dust the furniture.  Your face lit up when your lover said “You look nice!” because within the sphere of her luminosity, you did.  The two of you found no end of things to talk about.  Her aura stayed with you when you lay on your back at night, stared with a sigh at the ceiling, and fell to sleep amid pleasant dreams. 

Then she grew about the waist, and your mutual dreams grew, too.  Shopping became a mission from God.  Giving birth was literally an out-of-body experience.  You became “father” and “mother” - words from a myth or ancient prophecy, mysteriously applied now to you.  You were the first creatures visited by this miracle: Adam and Eve in Eden, Christopher Atkins and Brook Shields in The Blue Lagoon.  The planet rotated to a new theme song.  Sun, moon and stars bowed down to the infant in the crib.  King Baby became your sovereign, love, entertainment system, (broken) alarm clock or crazed rooster that heralded the new day while the sun lazily rested in remote firmaments of the sky on the far side of the Earth.

So many changes!  But far out at sea, the boat slowly rights from tsunamis that pass under its keel.  Most of your brain cells remain in place, however reluctantly they clock in.  Once distended and quirky, your stomach reasserts old cravings. 

So there is double discontinuity in marriage and childbirth.  Wedded life is not the same as singleness, and being a parent is not the same as remaining childless.  The content of your Facebook pages from these two periods distinguishes them from the rest of your life.  Yet there is also a double continuity.  The two of you are still “Robert” and “Rebecca” or “Miles” and “Manny,” children of unique parents, moved by Swan Lake or Taylor Swift, with freckles and memories of secret love and childish adventures. 

Jesus had an impact upon his disciples like the founding of a new family, or the landing of a shooting star on a desert floor.  The impact of that life left a crater - like the sudden mixing of meteorite and native sod - impressions, sayings, acts flung into the pages of the earliest records, that distinguish those records from what came before or after. 

Probably the greatest modern English historian of early Christianity, N. T. Wright, has developed a powerful argument for the gospels from this blend of old and new.  Wright taught New Testament at Oxford and Cambridge Universities.  He is author of an epic series on “Christian Origins and the Question of God” that is erudite, lucid, and informed as are few works in the field.  Jesus Seminar fellow Marcus Borg described Wright as “the leading British Jesus scholar of his generation.”  In The Elusive Messiah: A Philosophical Overview of the Quest for the Historical Jesus, philosopher Raymond Martin placed Wright at the forefront of scholars studying the historical Jesus, praising his methodology as unmatched in sophistication.

In light of the problems we have encountered with methodologies for evaluating the gospels, perhaps we can gain from Wright’s perspective. 


Israel and the Prodigal Son

In Jesus and the Victory of God, Wright introduces the argument from “Double Similarity, Double Dissimilarity” by retelling Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son. 

Jesus told this story in Luke 15, in partial response to complaints from unnamed Jewish leaders about the company he kept.  “Why is Jesus eating with sinners?”  This was a natural question, in a religious culture in which the need for holiness meant setting oneself apart from the world.  Aslan was wrong to reduce Jewish tradition to withdrawal from the Gentile world’s impurities, but he was right to recognize that as a central element in the tradition, especially pressing in occupied Palestine.  Jesus told three parables to answer his critics’ challenge: about a lost sheep, coin, and son.  A man secured 99 sheep in the pen to search for one lost on the mountains.  A woman found her lost savings, and called friends over to celebrate.  In both cases, the moral was essentially the same: God rejoices when what has been lost, the “sinner,” is redeemed and brought home, which by implication is what Jesus came to do, “seek and save that which has been lost.” 

Jesus’ third story is by far the longest and most famous, and is an arrow aimed at the caricature of Jewish tradition Aslan perpetrates and to which he seeks to reduce it.  A father had two sons.  The younger tired of working for his father and requested an early inheritance check.  In the context of time and culture, this request must have come as a rude slap in the face to the father: as Wright puts it, it was like saying “I wish you were dead.”  But the father, whom Wright recognizes as the hero of the drama, graciously granted his son’s outrageous demand.  The son took “his portion” of the family wealth and ran.  In a distant land, he used up those funds, and was reduced to hiring himself out to a Gentile to watch pigs: lower than a beetle’s knees, in Jewish thinking.  Then the thought crossed his mind: “If only I could work as one of my father’s servants!  They are at least decently fed!”  (Reminding Jesus’ hearers what kind of man the father was.)  So the lad straggled home, preparing a properly apologetic speech as he trudged along.  But before he reached the estate his father, ignoring the stoic proprieties placed upon the pater familius in Jewish and Roman cultures, ran down the road and embraced his lost son. 

To this point, as with the stories of the sheep and the coin, Jesus was simply answering his critic’s question: “Why are you spending time with these miserable sinners?”  He answered them in the context of Jewish history.  As Wright explains, “This is the story of Israel, in particular of exile and restoration.  It corresponds more or less exactly to the narrative grammar which underlies the exilic prophets, and the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and a good deal of subsequent Jewish literature.“  But then the redemptive story Jesus was telling, and the knife, took a twist, as Wright notes: “For there is a second son, an older lad, and he represents the people who asked Jesus this question.” 

And with that twist, Jesus’ judges somehow found themselves in the defendant’s seat:

“This is an explosive narrative, designed to blow apart the normal first-century reading of Jewish history and to replace it . . . this tale subverts the telling of the story which one might expect from mainstream first-century Jews . . . “ (126)

What Jewish story is Jesus challenging?  Israel was defined first by its captivities to Egypt and Babylon, and as fragments of Greek and Roman Empires, then by promises of return and reconciliation with God:

“Exile and restoration: this is the central drama that Israel believed herself to be acting out.  And the story of the prodigal says, quite simply: this hope is now being fulfilled - but it does not look like what was expected.  Israel went into exile because of her own folly and disobedience, and is now returning simply because of the fantastically generous, indeed prodigal, love of her god.  But this is a highly subversive retelling.  The real return from exile, including the real resurrection from the dead, is taking place, in an extremely paradoxical fashion, in Jesus’ own ministry.”

The older brother represents Jesus’ self-righteous critics, “virtually Samaritans.”  They are “defining themselves as outside the true family,” Wright explains.  Jesus has flipped the national narrative like a giant pancake on the griddle, as the prophets so often had done before him.  Only with this further spin: the spotlight falls now not on some vague but glorious future, an ideal and as yet unrealized “Suffering Servant” or “Son of David,” but on the man standing in front of Jesus’ critics: the preacher accused of hanging with outcastes and lowlifes.  And the whole world (a mission calling mentioned throughout the Old Testament, but never seriously followed) would finally be brought into Israel’s story:

“It is time for the Gentiles to come in, because Israel’s exile is at last over, and she has been restored.”

For Jews, restoration should mean God’s return to the temple.  Jesus cleansed that temple, a symbolic act Aslan confuses with mere sedition.  Jesus was not just causing a ruckus: he was reminding Israel that divine visitation was a call to repent.  Wright points out that Luke could not have invented the ever-so-Jewish, but subversive, theme of a rebuilt Temple that is laced throughout early Christian literature.  Yet the theme of Israel’s Messianic restoration, then mission to the world, was “held in common with all the other major early Christian writers” (128).

Thus, “like a great pincer movement,” we “work inwards towards Jesus” from Jewish context and early Christian theology.  The “simplest solution” to explaining this mass of complex but converging data (having added a dialectical alloy, Wright’s method thus strengthens the concept of coherence) - the meteor’s impact, the birth of a new family - is “that Jesus himself believed that he was the agent of his strange return from exile.”  The resurrection would be God’s stamp of approval upon his ministry.  All this - resurrection, forgiveness, restoration, return, the rule of God - was occurring “under the noses” of the “self-appointed stay-at-home guardians of the father’s house” (128).

God thus proved kind as the prophets predicted, but prodigally kind, kind in a revolutionary, even threatening way.  Israel “could say to her god ‘I wish you were dead,’ but this god would not respond in kind.  When, therefore, Israel comes to her senses, and returns with all her heart, there is an astonishing, prodigal, lavish welcome waiting for her” (129).

The Prodigal Son thus does not merely teach, in an abstract sense, it embodies or incarnates truth, it “creates a new world.”

This is why Jesus’ story, drawing in the whole ministry that the tale encapsulates, felt to some listeners like a sucker-punch to the gut:

“It is not a matter . . . Of Jesus offending some petty scruples here or there, or of an abstract challenge offered by one timeless religious system to another.  Jesus is claiming to be ushering in Israel’s long-awaited new world; and he is doing it, apparently, in all the wrong ways.  Jesus is enacting the great healing, the great restoration, of Israel.  And he interprets his own actions in terms of the fulfillment, not of a few prophetic proof-texts taken atomistically, but of the entire story-line which Israel had told herself, in a variety of forms, over and over again” (130).

Wright begins with the Prodigal Son, but argues that this algorithm draws in the whole gospel story of redemption.  “Dramatically, historically, theologically, the parable fits perfectly into the ministry of Jesus . . . Jesus is reconstituting Israel around himself” (131).

The world loves the story of the Prodigal Son.  It is the sort of tale a 19th Century novelist would make hay of.  (And come to think of it, Charles Dickens also loved this story and borrowed its plot, for instance in Great Expectations.  Forrest Gump’s prodigal love towards Jenny can be read the same way.)  To say this story “coheres” with the rest of Jesus’ ministry is an almost comical understatement.  The Prodigal Son draws Jesus’ ministry around it like a well-tailored suit.  It is a perfectly-chosen final chisel stroke that gives the Thinker’s eyes their intensity, the fingers almost touching as God reaches out to Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. 

What does this master stroke of a rhetorical gambit have to do with historical evidence?  Simple.  The gospels are “Facebook postings” from a particular period in Christian history, testable and datable debris scattered from the impact crater of historical causation.  Wright explains:

“The parable only makes sense as a retelling of Israel’s story; but it also only makes sense as a profoundly subversive retelling of that story . . . As a parable, not least in its manner of concluding one scene too early, it makes sense precisely at that moment in history when the possibility of Israel’s redemption happening in this fashion is being controversially mooted, not when it is being climactically and publicly celebrated.  The parable thus fits exactly into the gap between Judaism and early Christianity . . . It is thus decisively similar to both the Jewish context and the early Christian world, and at the same time importantly dissimilar . . .” (131-2, Wright’s emphasis)

From this discussion emerges Wright’s criterion of double similarity:

“When something can be seen to be credible (though perhaps deeply subversive) within first-century Judaism, and credible as the implied starting point (though not the exact replica) of something in later Christianity, there is a strong possibility of our being in touch with the genuine history of Jesus.”

Already Wright is hinting at a second and complementary half to the criteria.  Even stronger evidence of historicity is found when not only does a given story or scene fit like hand in glove within a duel historical context - say, between falling in love and having a child - but when part of the story differs doubly from “before” and “after” contexts as well.  (And thus is “deeply subversive” of what came before, and not an “exact replica” of what comes after, either.)  Your honeymoon was a distinctive era of your life: you were no longer merely your parents’ child or a lonely single, but neither had the baby arrived.  But that life made no sense apart from your own parents, and the subsequent growth of your family and its smallest members is best explained as the fruition of that union. 

Later Wright argues that “double similarity and double dissimilarity must characterize any analysis that claims historicity” (226).  This seems a bit much.  As Wright says about the Prodigal Son, “one swallow does not make a summer,” and we shall host a large flock of evidences for the gospels in subsequent chapters.  But Wright is right to recognize DSDD as a sweeping pattern to which much of the gospel material does indeed conform, and which supports the historical truth of that material.  Consider even the famous phrase “The Kingdom of God,” which Aslan supposes is code for La Revolucion.  Jesus announces in Matthew and Mark, “The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the good news!”  Wright points out that even here, Jesus’ words are almost unprecedented:

“No one in Judaism had said quite that before, but the sayings make no sense except in a firmly Jewish context.  Equally, the early church, venturing beyond the borders of Judaism, did not announce the kingdom in these terms - they would have meant nothing to Gentiles - and yet the announcement they made, and the life they led, are unthinkable without this kingdom being believed to have come in a still very Jewish sense.  They were not, after all, offering ‘a different religious option’ to a world already sated with such things.  They were announcing that the one true god, the creator, had fulfilled his purpose for Israel and was now, in consequence, addressing the whole world” (227).

Jesus did not “address” the world as a military conqueror, as Aslan supposes.  Wright sardonically notes a similar proposal that predated Aslan by some 23 years, “The authors are to be congratulated on finding yet another new way of making Paul the corrupter of the religion of Jesus” (450n).  Rather, in the face of cruel Roman imperialism, Jesus called Israel to repent of her “militaristic nationalism.”  Israel’s true calling was not to merely kill Roman soldiers and set up a new mega state, but to bring light of a new sort to the world:

“One of the key elements in Jesus’ perception of his task was therefore his redefinition of who the real enemy was; then, where this enemy was actually located; then, what this enemy’s strategy was, and how he was to be defeated . . . (this theme) looms large in the gospels.  It is comparatively scarce in other early Christian literature, and is very differently treated in non-Christian Jewish literature of the time.  At the same time, it is a thoroughly Jewish perception of reality, and makes excellent sense as the presupposition of what we find in early Christianity.  It thus meets the test, which is of course only ever applicable in a broad-brush way, of double dissimilarity and double similarity” (450).

Again and again, even the most “ace” among our ACE detectives adopts schemes of interpretation that simply ignore large swaths of historical data.  Aslan and Carrier go so far as to pretend that Jesus didn’t even tell his followers to love their enemies.  Wright’s dialectic, by contrast, has the merit of preserving contrasting shards of evidence within a coherent whole.  Yes, Jesus was “a Messiah,” as Aslan argues.  But “Messiah” took on new meanings in light of his personality and mission.  (As the word “Sage” [聖人] would gain new meaning in the wake of Confucius’ life - another great thinker whose historicity is I think supported by DSDD.) 

Wright noted that scholars are coming to recognize that the Messianic awareness permeating the gospels can hardly have been pure Christian novelty.  Why would Jesus’ first followers make up a “Messiah” so far at odds with the expectations of the Jewish people?  “Why bother to invent passages, sayings, and above all a title that would be at best beside the point and at worst dangerously misleading?” (488-9) Jesus was a Messiah whom Jews did not expect, but who could not have appeared anywhere else.  He was the savior Christians would worship, but more complex, edgy, even quirky, and unpredictable than the simplified figure of later Christology - yet only such a person could produce such a creed:  

“We may suggest that the portrait of Jesus as Messiah in the synoptic gospels is not only significantly different from what the Jewish context would have led us to expect (though is makes sense only within, and as a key variant upon, that Jewish setting).  It is also significantly different, both in context and in the tone of presentation, from what we find in the early church (though the church’s proclamation of Jesus as Messiah makes sense only if we presuppose something like the gospels’ picture) . . . As in other cases, the picture the gospels paint is both continuous and discontinuous with non-Christian Judaism on the one hand and the life of the early church on the other, in such a way as to force the historian to postulate that we are here in touch with Jesus himself” (489).

How much of the gospels does Wright’s method for seeking historicity vindicate?  Most of the framework and quite a bit of the finish, I think.  The gospels are deeply Jewish.  Even Luke cannot be understood in any other cultural context.  Yet they break with Judaism - no break is not the right word - Jesus does not abolish, but he fulfills on unexpected terms and with surprising force.  No one predicted the sort of fulfillment whose characteristics I shall describe.

It may sound like a joke to ask, “Are the gospels Christian?”  They are the founding texts of Christianity, its Magna Carta, Bill of Rights, and Constitution rolled into one.  The past two thousand years are the impact crater of this missile: Augustine, Francis, Thomas Aquinas, cathedrals, universities, missions, stained glass windows, Handel’s Messiah, the names of Hispanic baseball players (and my two sons) - all derive from these four small texts. 

Yet Christianity never produced anything like them again.  Read the hagiographies that Ehrman reproduces of Paul, Peter, John, or Thomas.  The atmosphere has changed.  We have crossed a great frontier.  The child in the crib has graduated from college and gone out into the world. 

The power of Double Discontinuity, Double Continuity lies in its scope.  It does not cover a few random verses, or one or two analogies.  The gospels are deeply Jewish, yet stand out dramatically from Hebrew tradition.  They are the origin of Christian tradition, yet could not have been, and were not, written again, after those first few years of life. 

The rest of this book may, if you like, be read through this grid. 

Saturday, April 02, 2022

My Censored Review of John McWhorter's Woke Racism

Several months ago, I posted a three-star review of John McWhorter's Woke Racism which was doubly incorrect: for approving of his attack on the New Racism, and for disapproving of his attacks on Christianity.  It was a thorough, evidence-based critique, and became the most popular on Amazon's page for that book.  But then it disappeared.  I asked why, and was told it would be reinstated.  But then it disappeared again.  I prodded again, but it did not reappear, so far as I know.  

Perhaps it disappeared into the Woke Zone. 

Anyway, here it is, by request.  Hopefully this corner of the Internet is still untouched by censors.  

I have thought about sending McWhorter a copy . . . he responded in a friendly way to a previous inquiry.  And maybe I should see about publication elsewhere.  

*  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

McWhorter is such a lively writer, so lucid and sharp, and his argument here is so important (or would be, if only), that one must justify giving the book but three stars.  I will not do so by echoing the reviewer below who calls this "right-wing whining:"  McWhorter echoes too many Democratic talking points for my taste.  Yet he has much to say that should be heard.
Pity he almost ruins it by dropping so much poorly-aimed ordinance, stupidly taking out potential allies, including me, as collateral damage.  
"Stupid" is not normally a word one would associate with this brilliant scholar.  But McWhorter is a linguist, dabbling here in religion.  I am a philosopher of religion, who dabbles in language occasionally.  The problem with religion is, everyone thinks they're an expert, even if they are as weakly-informed on the subject as Sigmund Freud, Steven Pinker, or Richard Dawkins.  McWhorter attacks it with the same ignorance and arrogance.    
Should one call woke ideology a "religion?"  That depends on how you define the word (see Peter Berger): the odd thing is, McWhorter doesn't give a definition, despite the importance of this classification.  By some definitions, McWhorter would also qualify as a religious person, and his own beliefs -- which he proselytizes here, apparently thinking others should agree with him, though he describes those as marks of religion -- are potentially subject to some degree to the same criticism he levels on his targets.  He criticizes Manicheanism, but edges towards a Gnostic view of society, with the Enlightened faithful battling legions of the superstitious and cognitively lazy.    
If you're writing a book to convince people to oppose a popular new faith, why spend so much time attacking people who might prove to be your allies?
And so ignorantly!  Cotton Mather is a byword for blind faith?  Actually he was keenly interested in the sciences, which pious Christian thinkers did much to create, and helped stop small pox in its tracks in Boston.  Ben Franklin credits him for inspiring his own good works.  No, religions are not all the same, even so-called "Abrahamic religions" (a dubious category), any more than all writing systems are the same.  No, blind faith or "unempirical" beliefs are not the necessary hallmark of Christianity: in fact, almost every sermon to pagans in the Acts of the Apostles is highly empirical.  Nor is it true that early Christians simply "thought of themselves as bearers of truth, in contrast to all other belief systems."  Again, read Acts, and see how Paul interacted with Stoic philosophers in Athens.  Or Justin Martyr, Origen, St. Augustine, after him.  I wrote my doctoral dissertation on how Christianity sees other faiths, mostly in the Chinese context, but with reference to other civilizations as well.  (Fulfillment: A Christian Model of Religions.)  McWhorter continually takes irrelevant shots at a version of Christianity that a child should not hold.  And does he not think himself a bearer of truth?  If not, why write?  It is irritating to buy a critique of a modern ideology that the author understands, and get so much of a attack on an ancient ideology that he clearly does not, in a field not his own, with so little self-criticism.      

McWhorter's epistemology is also dubious.  He decries the "suspension of disbelief" in religion.  But really, conflicts between opposing authorities -- say, your eyes, and what your best friend tells you -- are inherent in the human condition.  The only rational way to act in this world, is by ignoring some doubts, most of the time.  
At the end of the book, McWhorter tells readers, "If you wish to expel religion, Sigmund Freud, The Future of An Illusion."  But as Kevin Williamson put it recently, "As a scientist, Sigmund Freud was a man whose name was one vowel away from being the perfect aptronym . . . "  At best, on religion, I find "Fraud" an amusing crackpot.  That McWhorter thinks he's the go-to guy, is astonishing.  
McWhorter also assumes that "religions" are essentially the same thing -- even if he doesn't bother to define the word.  But every object in the cosmos larger than a small protein is unique, for those who study that class of objects.  Religions are far more varied than snowflakes.      
McWhorter does mention one difference between religions: Wokism has not developed a concept of forgiveness yet.  But as I explain in "Letter to a 'Racist' Nation," woke concern for those on the margins is a fragment off of Christian theology, introduced by Jesus.  You don't easily find it in Greco-Roman civilization before that: read Suetonius, or Tom Holland's Dominion.  Nor do you find it in Aztec or Nazi religions.  As Chesterton put it, isolated from Virtue as a whole, compassion has gone mad in modern American society, with results that McWhorter well describes.      
Another valid link between Christianity and Wokism is explained by Rene Girard, whom McWhorter 
does not mention: the notion of scapegoating.  For Christians, Jesus took the sins of the world upon himself.  Girard points out, however, that he also subverts and exposes all attempts to scapegoat.  Jesus was thus the historical antidote to Cancel Culture, Girard argues.  
While I'm being one-sided, I should also mention McWhorter's mild support for BLM and less mild criticism of the police.  It's not just that my brother's a cop, and he's saved lives (of what color, it doesn't matter) in many ways, while as predicted, BLM protests were again followed by a huge upsurge in murders.  But also, I visited CHAZ.  Just to the west of the Seattle East Precinct I found "Blue Lives Murder" graffiti.  By the front door to east, protestors had hung a poster of 29 African-Americans killed by police in WA state in recent years.  (Ignoring Whites, Asians, Natives, and Hispanics.)  I researched those and other "victims" of police shootings (see Letter to a "Racist" Nation) and found almost all were aggressively wielding guns or other weapons.  Some of these "victims" had already murdered someone.  In fact, some 3000 innocent Americans die of medical errors, for every one killed by Law Enforcement.  It was a witch hunt, in 2020.  Dr. McWhorter needs to treat BLM propaganda more critically.  
McWhorter is in over his head in religion.  He is much better when describing culture, psychology, and faculty gossip.  His prose floats like a butterfly, then stings like a bee.  Unfortunately, this butterfly floats over the wrong target, and the bee wastes too many stings on a Rock that has worn out whole hives of hornets and yellowjackets.  While wonderfully readable, this book is ill-conceived, and to me, rather irritating.  

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Grant and the Chinese

 The following is an excerpt from Mark Twain's autobiography, accessed at


Early in 1884, or late in 1883, if my memory serves me, I called on General Grant with Yung Wing, late Chinese minister at Washington, to introduce Wing and let him lay before General Grant a proposition. Li Hung-Chang, one of the greatest and most progressive men in China since the death of Prince Kung, had been trying to persuade the imperial government to build a system of military railroads in China, and had so far succeeded in his persuasions that a majority of the government were willing to consider the matter--provided that money could be obtained for that purpose outside of China, this money to be raised upon the customs of the country and by bonding the railway, or in

some such manner. Yung Wing believed that if General Grant would take charge of the matter here and create the syndicate, the money would be easily forthcoming. He also knew that General Grant was better and more favorably known in China than any other foreigner in the world, and was aware that if his name were associated with the enterprise--the syndicate--it would inspire the Chinese government and people and give them the greatest possible sense of security. 

We found the general cooped up in his room with a severe rheumatism, resulting from a fall on the ice which he had got some months before. He would not undertake a syndicate, because times were so hard here that people would be loath to invest money so far away; of course Yung Wing's proposal included a liberal compensation for General Grant for his trouble, but that was a thing that the general would not listen to for a moment. He said that easier times would come by and by, and that the money could then be raised, no doubt, and that he would enter into it cheerfully and with zeal and carry it through to the very best of his ability, but he must do it without compensation. In no case would he consent to take any money for it. Here, again, he manifested the very strongest interest in China, an interest which I had seen him evince on previous occasions.

He said he had urged a system of railways on Li Hung-Chang when he was in China, and he now felt so sure that such a system would be a great salvation for the country, and also the beginning of the country's liberation from the Tartar rule and thralldom, that he would be quite willing at a favorable time to do everything he could toward carrying out that project, without other compensation than the pleasure he would derive from being useful to China.

This reminds me of one other circumstance.

About 1879 or 1880 the Chinese pupils in Hartford and other New England towns had been ordered home by the Chinese government. There were two parties in the Chinese government--one headed by Li Hung-Chang, the progressive party, which was striving to introduce Western arts and education into China; the other was opposed to all progressive measures. Li Hung-Chang and the progressive party kept the upper hand for some time, and during this period the government had sent one hundred or more of the country's choicest youth over here to be educated. But now the other party had got the upper hand and had ordered these young people home. At this time an old Chinaman named Quong, non-progressionist, was the chief China minister at Washington, and Yung Wing was his assistant. The order disbanding the schools was a great blow to Yung Wing, who had spent many years in working for their establishment. This order came upon him with the suddenness of a thunderclap. He did not know which way to turn.

Rev. Joseph Twichell

First, he got a petition signed by the presidents of various American colleges, setting forth the great progress that the Chinese pupils had made and offering arguments to show why the pupils should be allowed to remain to finish their education. This paper was to be conveyed to the Chinese government through the minister at Peking. But Yung Wing felt the need of a more powerful voice in the matter, and General Grant occurred to him. He thought that if he could get General Grant's great name added to that petition, that alone would outweigh the signatures of a thousand college professors. So the Rev. Mr. Twichell and I went down to New York to see the general. I introduced Mr. Twichell, who had come with a careful speech for the occasion, in which he intended to load the general with information concerning the Chinese pupils and the Chinese question generally. 

But he never got the chance to deliver it. The general took the word out of his mouth and talked straight ahead, and easily revealed to Twichell the fact that the general was master of the whole matter and needed no information from anybody, and also the fact that he was brimful of interest in the matter. 

Now, as always, the general was not only ready to do what we asked of him, but a hundred times more. He said, yes, he would sign that paper, if desired, but he would do better than that: he would write a personal letter to Li Hung-Chang, and do it immediately. So Twichell and I went downstairs into the lobby of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, a crowd of waiting and anxious visitors sitting in the anteroom, and in the course of half an hour he sent for us again and put into our hands his letter to Li Hung-Chang, to be sent directly and without the intervention of the American minister, or anyone else. 

It was a clear, compact, and admirably written statement of the case of the Chinese pupils, with some equally clear arguments to show that the breaking up of the schools would be a mistake. We shipped the letter and prepared to wait a couple of months to see what the result would be.

But we had not to wait so long. The moment the general's letter reached China a telegram came back from the Chinese government, which was almost a copy, in detail, of General Grant's letter, and the cablegram ended with the peremptory command to old Minister Wong to continue the Chinese schools.

It was a marvelous exhibition of the influence of a private citizen of one country over the counsels of an Empire situated on the other side of the globe.

Such an influence could have been wielded by no other citizen in the world outside of that Empire; in fact, the policy of the imperial government had been reversed from Room 45, Fifth Avenue Hotel, New York, by a private citizen of the United States.


Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Autobiography of Edith Marshall IV

Help came for the people in need in 1935 when FD Roosevelt was elected president.  That was when the WPA was initiated and people were given work under jurisdiction of their state government, also the CCC camps came into being where the youth of the nation were given work cleaning trails and work to be done in the country's forests. 

Hope was once more born in the hearts of the people.  Those who had been on welfare were being given jobs, which restored confidence and hpooe for a better life once again.  It was a time when my confidence was reforn and I went seeking a home for our family.  We had moved five times in one year and I had no intention of having to move again.  Ralph was not sure that it was the teim when we could afford a down payment and it did seem impossible, for he had just started to work at Sand Point.  But my mind was much made up, and I went looking to see what could be accomplished toward finding something.  I think God worked a miracle for us that day.  I inquired at the real estate office of B- Homes in West Seattle, telling the older man who was in charge that day that I could pay $30 down and $60 within 90 days.  That seemed to be all right with him, and he showed me the little house on 40th SW which almost at once became our home.  The house was old, and the basement was full of water, but that didn't matter: it was close to the schools and it was a place we could call our own, and we wouldn't have to move again.  It took a long time, about 20 years, for us to pay for it, and there was much to take care of, but new siding and a roof were applied, fixing the walls in the basement so that the flooding was taken care of.  Later a new furnace was put in, but the problem of only one bathroom remained.  I wonder now how we ever managed, but it was home!

The children all grew up there, went to scohol and church in the neigborhood.  It was from there that Stan enlisted in the (GCS?), a branch of the service in Alaska.  It was while living there that Shirli met John Strong and was married to him in Dec. following her graduation from high school in June.  It was at the practice of that wedding ceremony that Gloria met Paul Swanson who later became her husband. 

Our little house seemed almost to burst at the seams, with seven of us, plus all the young people who gathered there.  Many young service men came as well as school friends of our children. 

It was a time of great stress, for we were in the middle of World War II, when all good citizens felt responsible to help in the war effort.  Having two sons in the service and later the third, I felt it a privilege to give as much help and support to other young men as possible. 

One day Ralph, who was working at the Bremerton Navy Yard, came home and told of a young sailor whom he had invited to come home with him for dinner.  A few nights later he came.  He was a handsome boy (he was only seventeen), and had a way about him that found a place in my heart.  Whenever his ship (the Lexington) was in port, he came to our home whenever possible.  He was, I felt, just a scared little boy, and we gave him a sense of security, for he said that he always felt safe in our home.  He felt the Lord was there. 

Those days of fear and doubt now seem to far removed, but they were merely stepping stones that led to higher heights and a stronger, better life.  The days of poverty and grief were merely stepping stones chiseled out o fhte rock with little steps going upward.  We can struggle against many odds, but unless we start the climb upward, we shall remain on the first step of that rock and be destroyed by the (fiercest) storms of life.  Steps upward can be precarious but we have an "Anchor," the "Good Shepherd" who really cares, for He was poor for our sakes too.  Each step has its own hazards, but these are stepping stones of life and Peter tells us: "Think it not strange concerning the fiery trials," for there will always be a slippery slope of sickness on which we may feel that we shall surely fall, but the Master reaches out His rod; we grasp it and are safe.  There is also the stepping stone of failure.  This is a grievious stone which is so rough it seems to tear at our feet, which causes us much pain and we wonder if we can make it.  We are reminded once again of David's assurance in Ps. 23: "Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."  There is comfort for the weary, and new strength for our climb upwards.  And so through all the storms of life we are comforted and strengthened as we look to the Shepherd of our souls. 

I was never quite sure what Paul meant when he said, "When I am weak, then I am strong."  But we can only become strong (spiritually which I think Paul meant) when we are willing to confess that we are weak, and are willing to accept His strength. 

My family all came to that time when they needed "His strength" and accepted it.  We are all stepping on some slippery stones from time to time, but underneath are the "Everlasting Arms" and we go on with our faith renewed and strengthened in the inner man / woman. 

Our family of five children has grown now with ten grandchildren and one great-grandson.

John, my first son-in-law, has been a pastor and a schoolteacher for many years, and how his son David is following in his father's footsteps.  I am so proud of him as I am of his brother .  My very first grandson John, who is a doctor now stationed with the Air Force in Germany.  Deborah, John's and Shirli's only daughter, is also a very special person, at present teaching a class of retarded children and working on her Masters.  I have much pride in Marlys, Gloria and Paul's only child, woh is employed as a registered nurse.  John and Pat have four children: Laurel who is married to Rand Fullington and is a bank officer.  Steve is a policeman in Kirkland and is being mightily used by God.  David and Peter live at home, but David is hoping to go to China as, I think, a missionary.  

Dayle -- Ron and Phyllis' son - is married to a little southern girl (a very lovely one) and living in Florida. Cindi is working for SPU and it also taking some classes hoping to graduate as a CPA.  

I feel that I am greatly blessed with all my family.  They are all very precious to me and while that climb up from the very depths of poverty was a most difficult one, I am so fortunate that the Lord chose me for this task.  There is just one note of sadness that I feel inclined to add, the fact that my precious first-born son Stan could not have a son of his own.  He would have been a very wonderful father, but God in His infinite mercy knows what is best for us all, so I accept that and thank Him for knowing what is best for us all.  

Autobiography of Edith Marshall: A Meeting at Alki

 A Meeting at Alki

Life really began for me on a Sunday in late May.  It was to be an afternoon of recreation for a girlfriend and I, traveling by streetcar from our respective rooming houses to Alki Beach to hear a band concert.  Radio was just beginning to come into being, but there were usually band concerts at various parks during the summer for entertainment.  

Tom Hanks at Alki in another romantic 

I don't know why, but as a teenager and on into my twenties, my warddrobe always contained a black dress or two.  My mother often chided me for wearing black, saying that I had plenty of time to wear it when I was old.  My answer would be, "I will wear bright colors when I am old."  I have not changed my mind concerning this answer, for in my old age, I still desire color in my warddrobe. 

On the day, so different from all the rest, I was wearing my favorite black dress and a black horsehair hat.  It was in an era when girls wore becoming things which made them look like ladies.  It was a "pre-flapper age," and skirts were worn just below the calf of the leg, and one did not think of going anywhere without a hat.  Hats were very important -- the right one could make you look beautiful -- or at least make one feel that way, and that was really what mattered most.  

The concert ended all too soon, but my friend Hagel and I were loath to leave.  It was such a treat here in the great outdoors with the waves of Puget Sound lapping at our feet.  We were ill-prepared for the two young men approaching.  There seemed to be nothing very outstanding in the one who approached me except for his eyes and his smile.  I have never been quite sure of the color of his eyes, but they appeared to be a sort of blue-grey, they were beautiful and had a way of looking at me in a caressing way.  His hair was dark.  I had always preferring blonds, but here was Ralph asking us to go to dinner with him and his friend.  

The Old Homestead on Alki

It solved a problem for Hagel and I for we were both short of funds.  It meant that our dinner would be paid for, also our streetcar fair home.  The "Old Homestead" restaurant was one of the very few places who served really good meals in the area of Alki so we went there for a delicious chicken dinner.  That was the beginning.  The next date was on Memorial Day when the four of us went back to Alki for a picnic.  There was a lovely path up on the hill a ways with blueberry bushes covered with the loveliest big blueberries, which we picked, eating a few. 

First Methodist Church on Capitol Hill, 
presumably the site where Ralph and Edith were
married.   The first pastor was Daniel Bagley, the
driving force behind establishing the University of
Washington in Seattle.
Ralph was eager for more and more dates, but I was not quite willing to give up dates with other young men.  There was a doctor's son in whom I was quite interested and two or three others.  But my hours were such that sometimes I was unable to go out for an evening because I was working late.  It seemed not to matter as to the lateness of the hour as far as Ralph was concerned, and so he often met me at the office when my shift was over.  We both liked to walk and we often walked in Volunteer Park and just enjoyed the warm summer evenings.  It was a case of love at first sight with him, and he often said that he proposed to me that very first night.  I'm not sure, but it was indeed a short courtship, for we were married six months later, on a dark dismal November, at a Methodist church on Capitol Hill in Seattle. 
My feelings were about as uncertain as the weather, but as the pastor finished the service, declaring us husband and wife, the sun broke through the clouds and rested on our heads.  A load lifted from my shoulders, for I felt it was God's blessing on our union.  

August 31, 1981

It seems to be the time that I must try to get all the loose ends of my life tied together in one package.  So often I have put down my thoughts in little pieces of notepaper, and often some of these have been lost or destroyed.  Because many of the things I have written, or perhaps I may say most of the things were written under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, so I feel they were worth preserving. 

Perhaps it is not strange that I feel impelled to write today.  It would have been my dad's birthday, and is also the forty-ninth birthday of John, my second son.  It seems so long ago that a squirming piece of humanity was placed in my arms and he seemed to look directly into my eyes, and at that first look, he entered into my heart. 

Those were the hard years of my life as we had gone through the great depression, and we had not yet seen the end of it.  It, I think changed my whole personality, for life just seemed to become one battle after another.  There was always the concern as to the proper food for the children, decent clothing and housing.  There were four now, with John's coming.  If one has never gone through all the pressures and worries of a depression such as this one, it is hard to imagine what a change it can make in one's personlity.  I had always been a very quiet, shy person who ran from trouble, now all of a sudden I found myself a mother lioness fighting for her whelps.  I was not a nice person to be around those days. 

I loved my family with a fierceness that was almost overwhelming.  It left me feeling helpless, there was so little I could do.  How I wish that I might have had the pleasure of prayer!  It would have made such a difference.  But both Ralph and I had not been to church in a long time, and when one ember is separated from the fire, it eventually goes out.  

But God was still on the throne and He still cared.  One night I was awakened by a voice calling my name. It was called three times - I still heart it after I was awake.  Suddenly I felt that I was being lifted, and I heard the sound of a great organ and voices "like the sound of many waters" singing and at the same time a fragrance not of this world seemed to fill the room. 

God still wanted me, and loved me! 

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me.  

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see."

I'm really writing all this to you, my family.  Others would not be interested, perhaps you won't be either, but I try to do these things which please the Lord, and somehow I feel He wants me to do this.  It is, after all, to His glory.  I have gone into some things of the past -- things I would like to forget but feel somhow that they are vital to the present.  Only those who have suffered much are able to succor those who are "pressing through their valley of Baca." (Ps. 84)  Only those who have gone through a long drought can truly appreciate the pools of water."  It was a great day for me when I finally realizied the extreme drought in my life.  

It made a difference in Ralph, too, when he finally drank from that kind of water, Jesus talked to (the) "woman at the well" about.  His smoking caused me a great deal of concern as he often went to sleep while smoking and was always burning holes in his clothes and one time burnt a big hole in one of our best blankets.  There is always the danger of fire in which people lose their lives.  But praise God!  When Ralph accepted Him the smoking went along with other sins. 

There was a day, a dark cloudy day in November -- November 25, 1923 in fact -- when we repeated our vows to Rev. Fletcher in his office of the Capitol Hill Methodist church.  It was a day when, like most girls, I presume I was a little fearful, not sure that I was doing the right thing.  Then just as the pastor pronounced us man and wife, the sun broke through the clouds and just seemed to shine upon our heads.  It was to me like the blessing of God, and I felt better. 

The next day (Monday), we both went back to work; I as a telephone operator and he as a cable-slicer's helper.  I worked for a couple of years, and the third year, Gloria came to brighten our lives.  I thought she was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen.  She was a healthy bab -- so she was good. She cried only when she needed a change or when she was hungry. 

The golden curls she was born with were replaced by light brown, but she was nonetheless beautiful.  Her laughter was like music, and even her cries had a musical ring. 

Things were not going well financially, work was scarce and suddenly the depression was upon us.  Gloria was almost three, and another child was on the way.  Because things were so tight and no one that I really trusted to take care of Gloria, I persuaded my doctor to permit me to be delivered at home.  This one was to be a very special one, for God had touched me in a way I had never known before.  I think I must have felt much like Elizabeth felt when Mary went to tell her of the promised Messiah she was to bring forth, and we are told that the babe (she Elizabeth was carrying) leaped in her womb for joy and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. 

Whatever the reason, my health seemed to be better and I was less tired.  When Stan, this second baby, arrived just a week before my own birthday, he really just seemed like a gift from God.  He was somehow so different from new born babies.  There was no fist waving in the air, but he would lie in his little bed with his hands folded as if in prayer.  He was so good, and so sweet!  

He seemed to grow up so fast, and it was such a joy to watch him walking so quickly and quietly on his little toes.  He could just melt my heart looking at me so soberly with his big eyes and little dimpled chin.  He was so good, and always such a quiet little fellow.  Had I known what the years would bring forth, I might have felt a little like Mary as she cradled the Christ child in her arms.  Time can bring forth such fearful things.  Many times as my first-born son was in the midst of the II World War I felt as if I were being crucified along with him.  Had it not been for the comparison of Him who was crucified that awful day on an old rugged cross, we would never have made it.  How good God is!

Shirli, my second little girl, came just eighteen months after Stan, and she was such a sweet little baby, who grew up too fast.  She was the only one of our five children who seemed anxious to be born, and she always seemed just as anxious to grow up.  She ws always so lively and such a happy little girl and so beautiful!  

When Ronald, our fifth child, came along, she adored him and loved giving him his bottle and never seemed to tire waiting for him to finish.  His was a very difficult birth, but what a joy to hold this last beautiful son.  He had little blond curls, which I was very hesitant to sacrifice to the sheers. 

Looking back, I think how wonderfully God had provided.  We all had good health, and even as God promised to feed the little birds, we were worth more than many sparrows to Him. 

Had I known Him as I do now, it could have made much difference in our life, but God was leading one step at a time. 

John was born at a time when things were still depressed, but help was on the way.  I felt better that summer too than I had with the first three children.  I often went out very early in the morning in search of wild blackberries, and perhaps that was one reason I felt better.  The fresh air and exercise were good therapy for me.  

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Autobiography of Edith Marshall II

A Summer to Remember

Life was young and  life was sweet!  The First World War had not become a reality as yet, and we lived in ignorance of it becoming so.  Birch Bay was far removed from the cares of the world.  It was a beautiful resort place with a lovely pavilion where people gathered every Saturday night.  It had a very nice floor -- smooth glass and dancing was so enjoyable there.  

I was spending part of my summer there, and I look back upon that summer as the most enjoyable one of my entire teenage years.  It was the first Saturday night I had gone there was a boy friend and a couple of girl friends.  I was dressed in a white cotton dress with trimmings of black and white stripes.  My shoes were white, and I was bubbling over with youthful happiness.  

As we entered the pavilion, I looked across the room, my eyes encountering a young man leaning against the wall.  He was tall, slender, and blond.  A lock of hair over his forehead seemed to have a way of falling in the opposite direction of where it was supposed to go.  Little things that just stood out, which gave me a desire to meet him.  I said as much to my sister, and as though he had gotten the message, he crossed the room rapidly and asked for the next dance.  I can't remember whether it was a waltz, a two-step or what.  All I could think of was that I was dancing with him and I was very happy!  There were others, too many to count, but call it what you will, I was really hooked!  

I counted the days each week waiting for Saturday night.  My boy friend who was always so good to take me and my girl friends, did not dance himself but he said he wanted me to have a good time, even if it was with someone else.  

Each Saturday night my new "heart throb" was there and almost as soon as I entered the pavilion, he was there at my side.  Then all too soon it was the last Saturday for me.  I was going home.  I did not tell this handsome young man of my plans, and that last night as we danced cheek to cheek I felt that if we could just go on dancing and being held close by him I would be the happiest girl in the world.  But even then, I knew in my heart that nothing could come of it. 

It had been a beautiful summer, but now it was ended and I must return home and to school for another year.  I went out of his life, and he out of mine without a word -- leaving no address with him, not even telling him goodbye or that I would not be back.  Life it like that!  So many people in passing who could perhaps make for much happiness if only there was time.  But time moves on and so we must move with it.  But there are memories which come to us from time to time like perfume from a lovely rose.  

(Note: the following almost two pages are written quite faintly: I'll transcribe what I can.  After that, things become much clearer.  The date of 1920 is given for the car in a darker pen, and Grandma says this was a great treat for teenagers in the early 1920s, but Grandma would have been 20 in 1917 already, so that doesn't fit. -- DM.) 

Beatrice was my very closest friend, and when she suggested that I drive with her from Mount Vernon, WA, to Seattle, in the new Chevrolet her Dad had just purchased, I was delighted. 

Back in the early 20s that was quite a trip for two teenage girls.  After . . . Skagit County . . . (This paragraph is hard to make out)

We had left quite early in the morning, and arrived in Everett about noon.  Everett was quite a mill town, and gave every evidence of that fact, as the mill whistle blew for lunch, and workers began to appear as if by magic; they had been disgorged from the (smith's . . . ).  

. . . from Everett there were more woodlands and scattered farm-home.  The farms were smaller and more scattered than those we had known in the Skagit Valley, but mostly attractive and well-cared for.  

The trip was a very pleasant one, for Beatrice and I had much in common.  We (sang) and enjoyed every mile of the way.  I had made reservations at the Arlington Hotel for the night, and when arriving in Seattle, we made our way there.  

(The next paragraph is illegible to me.  Maybe someone else can make it out.  The following several paragraphs are spotty.) 

. . . home . . . by the University District where some of Beatrice's family lived.  We spent a short time walking along Lake Washington, enjoying the beauty of the day and of the area.  

We had . . . driven a third of the way home . . . to Beatrice, that something was wrong . . . I said, 'Beatrice, I'm not going to . . . '  

Beatrice pulled over to the side of the road, opened the . . . under the seat where we had just sat . . . and taking . . . 

(The rest of this story is illegible, and then a stronger pen takes over.  I rearrange the following sections, however, to place more of Grandma's Skagit experiences before experiences involving World War I, the move to Seattle, and influenza . . . it appears that the following chapter will being with a story that takes place at Alki Beach.)

The County Fair

When I look back upon the years I keep wondering about the special days such as the Fourth of July, the County Fairs and celebrations that were so important to us in those days.  Of course there was a certain excitement with great crowds of people coming to town to partake in it.  I usually went to such celebrations with my sister or perhaps a friend or two. 

Perhaps one that I enjoyed more than any other was the County Fair, where there was much to see besides people.  One night we went with a couple of young men, and we had such an enjoyable time.  I still can't remember what we saw as to displays, but we were having so much fun, they didn't seem important.  

I can't remember either what I wore, except a new black velvet (looks like "tam and shanter?)"   ) with a red feather on one side.  The young man with me liked it too, and he proceeded to take possession, wearing it as gauntily as a (Sear's?) man would.  

Strange how such small things remain as little shalfts of sunlight peaking through the clouds on a dark day.   This McFee was indeed a Scotsman who made one feel sort of special just being with him.  I indeed carried a torch for him many days. 

The Square Dance

Living in the country all the years of my young life, there was little entertainment, except perhaps a movie on Saturday night and church on Sunday, so it was a real lark for me when a young man who was living in a small house we had rented to him, asked me to accompany him to a square dance being held at his brother's house, who lived five or six miles further out in the country. 

There were very few cars being used then, and Jim had called for me with a nice buddy drawn by two beautiful horses.  As we went farther out into the country, the road seemed to get worse by the moment.  It caused me to wonder if Jim deliberately hit all the rough spots, which threw me against him, which seemed to please him.  He knew I was fearful of being thrown out, or the buggy being tipped over in one of the deep ruts.  But he was very pleased with himself -- was he not being the big strong man who had everything under control -- even if I wasn't?  

Arriving at his brother's home, I was received royally -- for wasn't I Jim's girl? 

The night went all too quickly.  The house was filled with young people.  I did not know how to square dance as all I knew was ballroom dancing.  This presented no problems as all of the young men were eager to teach me, and it wasn't hard as we listened to the man who called out 

In 1923 I moved to Seattle where I had a job with the telephone company.  It was difficult for me coming to a strange city, not knowing anyone.  But I felt constrained to go.  

(Next: A Meeting at Alki)