Grantchester Meadows, the Economy, and Pink Floyd

I’ve read a few editorials in the National Post recently that argue for the legalization and normalization of prostitution in Canada.  The argument goes something like this:  Prostitution is essentially a woman selling what belongs to her.  So why should the government prohibit the transaction?  Why not regulate it instead?  In this way, the laws of supply and demand are allowed to function – and a state agency will be there to protect women.  Similar arguments are used to justify the legalization of drugs.  Those who make these kinds of arguments appeal to pragmatic and scientific considerations rather than moral ones (a false dichotomy), an approach that G. Bruun traces back to the French Revolution,

 “The radical thinkers of the Enlightenment were rebels against an ecclesiastical tradition fifteen centuries old, a tradition which insisted that man is a sinful creature, living in hourly danger of death and an after-judgment, and powerless to save himself without the assistance of divine grace and intervention.  To substitute for this view the more pagan and more rational concept that the virtue of an act depends upon its consequences implied a revolution in ethical thought, for it made reason, not conscience or tradition or revelation, the supreme authority in moral decisions.”  (Bruun 1938, 237)

The French Revolution sought to marry statecraft with science, believing that social problems could be solved by discovering the natural laws that govern human interactions.

“Mankind, they agreed, stood on the threshold of a new and glorious era. All that was needed to unlock the millennium was a supreme legislator, a Euclid of the social sciences, who would discover and formulate the natural principles of social harmony.”  (Bruun 1938, in loc.)

We have adopted the same supposedly pragmatic and scientific approach to managing our economy.  Rather than purge economic excess and send criminals to jail, we have chosen rather to view our economic troubles as a set of technical challenges that must be overcome with the help of experts.   It seems to me that the economist, J.M Keynes, was one of the foremost proponents of this approach.   Keynes argued that in deflationary periods, like that of the Great Depression, only the government has the power to stimulate demand and put the economy on an upward trajectory.  Keynes said that it doesn’t matter where demand comes from, as long as it generates further demand.  Bury jars filled with money and send men out with shovels to dig them up, or go to war, whatever it takes to get money moving again!   And so we have almost every central bank in the world setting interest rates at near zero and purchasing long dated securities.

But the whole premise of Keynes’ theory begs the question, “Why is our financial system so fragile in the first place?”  Shouldn’t a healthy economy be able to withstand a protracted period of declining prices?  How is it that the very survival of our financial institutions is predicated on 2% inflation – or more?  The answer to these questions can be summed up in one word – debt.   It doesn’t take a Nobel Prize in economics to see that excessive debt makes our system fragile.  When a crack appears, we hastily patch it with another wasteful government program or resort to statistical wizardry.   Thus when Spain, Italy and Great Britain  exceeded their budget deficit cap of 3% of GDP, they revised GDP upwards by including the sale of sex and drugs in their calculations!

It is the height of hypocrisy to speak of the degradation of our environment without addressing the fact that our entire economic system is built around ever increasing amounts of debt and consumption.  I recently had a chance to look at a house in Levittown that a friend of mine purchased and renovated.   Levittown was America’s first suburb.  The developer, Levitt & Sons, mass produced these homes at a rate of 1 house every 27 minutes!  The houses sold for under 8,000 USD each, zero money down.   This might be considered a great economic achievement –  capitalism at its most efficient!   But go back and look at those homes today.  Their concrete floors have broken away from the foundations and have sunk over 4” in places, their walls are barely insulated.  Mice in the attic have gnawed exposed electrical wires bare.   The giant oil tank buried in the front yard is in the process of disintegrating, and its heating oil steadily leaches into the soil.  Take these problems and multiply them by the 20,000 homes built in Levittown and you have a problem!  My friend bought that house in Levittown for 90,000.  It took another 60,000 to make it inhabitable.    All of the money that was spent building that house in the first place, gutting it, and essentially rebuilding it again, shows up in a nation’s GDP but how much of that activity created real value and how much of it was essentially the equivalent of digging a hole and refilling it again?  One could ask the same question about the mini-fridge whose freezer comes with a brittle, polystyrene door; or the electric drill whose metal gears have been replaced with nylon; or the hot water tank whose lifespan has been reduced from 20 to 7 years.  Our GDP measures only what is tangible, and we formulate our policies based on these numbers.  But real value cannot be measured.  And technocrats do not know what it is.

We have chosen to put our faith in experts who make decisions based on what is pragmatic instead of what is moral.  But the consequences of ignoring the intangibles are all to real.  Man does not live on bread alone, and neither, apparently, does an economy.

The evolution of the capitalist spirit still proceeds upon its course, a course in which we can clearly distinguish two phases: until the end of the 18th century, and since then to the present day.  In the first epoch, which comprised the period of early capitalism, the character of the capitalist genius was essentially restricted and repressed, in the second its expression was essentially free.  Its bonds had been the restrictions of a code and a morality riveted by all the Christian catechisms…  It may well be that, among the many stimuli which the Revolution provided for the encouragement of capitalist enterprise, none was more pervasive in its effect than the substitution of a climate of opinion frankly secular, as an alternative to a social philosophy which had been, until the later eighteenth century, laden with theological preconceptions. (Bruun 1938, 145)

The River Cam runs through Grantchester meadows. Bertrand Russell, J.M. Keynes, Forster, Wittgenstein, among others, were highly influential philosophers, economists and novelists who lived a communal lifestyle on a little farm on the meadows, just outside of Cambridge. They called themselves the Neo-Pagans.
The River Cam runs through Grantchester meadows. Bertrand Russell, J.M. Keynes, Forster, Wittgenstein, among others, were highly influential philosophers, economists and novelists who lived a communal lifestyle on a little farm situated in the meadows, just outside of Cambridge. They called themselves the Neo-Pagans.



Bruun, G. (1938). Europe and the French imperium, 1799-1814. New York, London,, Harper & Brothers.



In an article that discusses the supposed conflict between Biblical theology and Israelite religion, William Dever berates a number of his predecessors for their lack of professionalism.  He laments that flotation analysis was not used in more places. He argues for a more scientific approach to cataloging and analysis.  Furthermore, he argues that Syro-Palestine Archaeology has been compromised by its reliance on the Bible.  Dever concludes,

“Instead, I propose, as a working hypothesis, that early Israelite religion developed gradually out of the Late Bronze and early Iron Age fertility cults of greater Canaan, and that despite the growth of a royal/priestly cultus and its theology in Jerusalem, local cults continued to flourish and some of them reflected a highly syncretistic blend of Yahwism and pagan practice until the end of the Monarchy. “Normative Judaism,” as portrayed in the Deuteronomic and Priestly literature, is a construct of the late Judean Monarchy and in particular of the exilic period.

So ‘normative Judaism’, as Dever calls it, was the construct of an elite faction in Jerusalem; an idea that never really took root in the Iron Age.   What is so surprising about this statement is that it comes on the heels of a very helpful summary of Israelite material culture in which Dever acknowledges that there is a marked lack of pagan religious artifacts in strata belonging to the time of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

“no monumental Israelite art survives. No Israelite statuary or sculpture, large-scale iconographic representations, or paintings are known to us, save two 10th century cultic stands from Taanach… It may be significant that no representations of a male deity in terracotta, metal, or stone have ever been found in clear Iron Age contexts, except possibly for al El statuette in bronze from 12th century Hazor and a depiction of an El-like stick figure on a miniature chalk altar from 10th-century Gezer, and neither is necessarily Israelite.” (Dever, 574)

Go ahead and tabulate bones and seeds.  It will not change the overall picture.  We have uncovered vast portions of Iron II cities and found no metal deities.  We have many, many Late Bronze Canaanite temples and only one (debatable) Israelite temple.  We have a fairly exhaustive onomasticon of 8th-6th century BC Israelite names and found none that incorporate the name of a goddess and very few that are overtly pagan.  This evidence suggests that normative Judaism was established early in the Iron Age.  The fact that Dever is unable to draw reasonable conclusions from the data is due to his dogmatic reliance on 19th century theories of ‘higher’ criticism.


Meyers, C. L., et al. (1983). The Word of the Lord shall go forth : essays in honor of David Noel Freedman in celebration of his sixtieth birthday. Winona Lake, IN, Eisenbrauns.

70 AD

The story of Masada is fairly well known.  A small number of Jews made one last desperate stand against the Romans on an isolated desert fortress.   One might debate the number of defenders, the size of the siege ramp, or how long the siege actually lasted, but anyone who has been to Masada knows that a remarkable drama unfolded there.  The story of Masada raises some interesting questions.  How did the Romans view the war with the Jews?   Did they see it as just another region that needed to be subdued?  Or was there a religious aspect to the war?

The Romans raised a substantial army, equal to about one-seventh of the whole Imperial army, to fight against the Jews. None of the other cities in the region joined in the rebellion or any of the other Semitic peoples. Tacitus notes that the Arab forces who served under Titus were imbued with ‘hatred characteristic of neighbors’.  (Millar 1993, 78)  After Titus conquered Jerusalem, he made Jewish captives fight in gladiatorial games or fed them to wild beasts in arenas throughout Syria.  In this way, Josephus says, Titus provided “lavish displays in all the cities of Syria through which he passed, using the Jewish captives to demonstrate their own destruction.” (Josephus, Jewish War)

After their defeat, Jews were no longer allowed to contribute money towards the temple, a privilege allowed them under Julius Ceasar.  Instead, they were made to pay a tax to the Capitoline Jupiter.  A special series of coins were minted that depict a woman mourning under a palm tree and the words ‘Judea Capta’.  The ultimate symbol of defeat was the triumph celebrated in Rome and commemorated on the Arch of Titus.   This arch portrays items taken from the temple in Jerusalem paraded through the via Sacra in Rome.  According to Fergus Millar, Titus was the only emperor “ever to celebrate the subjugation of the population of an existing province”. (Millar 1993, 79)  Avidov adds, “All this was meant to send a clear message throughout the Roman domain: Jewish superstition had been rooted out at its very source, and the pax decorum restored; no longer would the adherents of the pernicious cult enjoy the peaceful existence accorded to all civilized religions of the empire.”  (Avidov, 2009)

When viewed in its larger historical context, the uprising of the Jews, and the crushing defeat inflicted on them by Vespasian and Titus, were the continuation of a longstanding conflict between the imperial powers of the Greek and Roman world and the Judeans (and later, the Christians) who rejected the values and religion of Greece and Rome.

Just as Titus and Vespasian sought to impose uniformity across the lands conquered by Rome, so too did the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV, and the Roman emperor, Hadrian.   These rulers were cosmopolitan in their outlook.  They believed in the universal brotherhood of all men united by Hellenistic culture. Who could wish otherwise? Hellenism was both attractive and enticing, and gave opportunity for the expression of almost every human impulse.

It was natural for those nations that adhered to a polytheistic belief system to assimilate the prevailing ideas of the Hellenistic world.  But the Jews and Christians could not accommodate the dictates of Rome without also denying the essential tenets of their faith.  They were different.  And this created the very real potential for conflict.

The Romans thought that the destruction of the temple was the final victory of Imperial Rome over the religion of the Jews.  But the conquering armies of the Roman empire were several decades late.  The real temple was destroyed in 33 AD (John 2:19).  The world had already changed.


Avidov, A. (2009). Not reckoned among nations : the origins of the so-called “Jewish question” in Roman antiquity. Tübingen, Germany, Mohr Siebeck.

Millar, F. (1993). The Roman Near East, 31 B.C.-A.D. 337. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.