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Our leader promises ‘a day of reckoning’ for Saddam’s regime—by which he means not just the shootout at the OK Corral but a religious settling of accounts.
The ancient Egyptians reckoned judgment with a scale. Your heart in a canopic jar was weighed against a feather representing Maat—the goddess of justice and righteousness. Maat’s consort Thoth, god of wisdom, recorded the verdict, and if you did not weigh righteously you got gobbled by Amet the crocodile god lying below the scales who was eager to eat the unworthy and deprive them of life. For well over four thousand years that image of scales and ultimate just reckoning has been alive in Egyptian culture. Tourists today buy ‘the day of reckoning’ on plaster plaques and painted papyrus. Scales of reckoning also appear on Greek vases where Zeus weighs the fate of warriors and on Christian churches where Michael, god’s warrior, weighs good and evil souls in judgment. Christians use both scales and the written record. In Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel there are two books—a big one of the damned and a smaller one of the saved.
The President’s day of reckoning has a direct biblical echo in the book of Daniel which is set in 6th century b.c Babylon in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, whom Saddam openly emulates. Nebuchadnezzar in the Hebrew view is a vicious tyrant whom god humbles—making him crawl on all fours with his hair like a goat’s and his fingernails like an eagle’s talons.
The prophet Daniel interprets the king’s dreams which foretell his inevitable downfall. His great image, with head of gold, breast of silver, belly of brass, will be struck in its iron and clay feet by a divine stone (usually read as Israel) and his empire will topple. The great tree of his kingdom which fills the heavens will be cut down and left a stump. Nebuchadnezzar’s son , Belshazzar, is also warned and punished. At Belshazzar’s feast he drinks wine out of the gold and silver vessels his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem. A mysterious hand appears and writes on the wall ‘Mene mene tekel u-pharsin’. Daniel interprets: ‘God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.’ Belshazzar is slain that very night.
Babylon is shocked and awed by God in both biblical apocalypses—Hebrew Daniel and Christian Revelation (Apocalypse). The final reckoning is a cleansing bloody conflict which separates good and evil nations. Mighty Babylon’s doom in the Christian Apocalypse will sound in a single hour and Jerusalem will triumph as the heavenly rich city with the tree and water of life.
The President of the most powerful nation on earth feels righteous attacking Baghdad. He intends to transform Babylon into liberated Christian Jerusalem. He’s in charge of a resonant day of reckoning, confident that evil will be removed by good.
Is he God or Amet or another tyrant?
There will be more than one day of reckoning.
DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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