Solomon might have asked himself, <<Am I still here?>> and, being the wisest judge, he would answer. So Solomon lived¹. Wouldn’t he have?
Prophets made predictions, and after they were realized, were called prophets. Is that what happened? Is Chödrön saying, <<If you do this, that will happen?>> Is she proposing a sort of amorphous covenant?
I notice that a Learner has a habit of saying <<I told you so>> to coworkers. This is so interesting. To imagine this motivation for a minute. To see the world as someone who is continuously yearning to prove, not a particular skill, but her foresight in general. Her message, as I hear it, is, <<Look, I was right, and I will continue to be right, so follow my advice.>>
I don’t know how to discourage her for from continuing down this path, because I can’t say, precisely, where it leads, but it seems misguided to call others’ attention to your predictions instead of your reasons—outcomes instead of means—because then all they have to do is watch you and look for instances of your being wrong? I’m sure I’ve seen at least one marriage that was made up of this: each struggling for decades to prove to the other that they themselves were the more prophetic, that theirs was the truer covenant. Like gambling addicts, they want, finally, to come out on top in the game of predicting the future.
So Solomon would conjure himself into existence³. How?
Solomon gave into idolatry, and Rabbi Akiva Tatz explains why prophets no longer exist. It is as a result of the Sanhedrin having excised that which leads to idolatry from the human soul. Why did they do it? Because the impulse toward idolatry “so tormented and stressed” even the most pious, that the Sanhedrin “decided to do something active about it.” Tatz says that, “It was, in fact, the most powerful temptation that there was.” People were losing their struggle against it. They couldn’t stop themselves from bowing down to idols. Why? Tatz says that it was their desire to connect with the transcendent, the divine, and I’m sure he’s right. But what else? And why that? Was it only the search for meaning? Is the mundane so meaningless? Well, we know, from the direct and clear account from Epicurus and others, that it wasn’t when it was moderately pleasurable. Epicurus was after Malachi (the last prophet), but was he living in such a different reality? When one had enough food and drink and friendship, when one had a bit of safety and a bit of beauty, couldn’t they enjoy life? So was the impulse to connect with the divine purely spiritual, or was it also practical? Or in other words, was the impulse as overwhelming when one wasn’t in the sort turmoil that was brought on by more mundane causes? Wasn’t this connection with god thought to be the independent variable, the imagined lever of control over nature and the outcomes of battles? Wasn’t a lot of it rain dances?
Maybe, but not all of it. Why? Because of foresight. In any torrent, one can imagine a drought, and their immortal soul. The impulse to petition a god wasn’t purely practical, because we didn’t evolve to perceive the actual valence of phenomena in relation to the fate of our genes. We don’t, most of us, obsessively seek the optimal caloric intake; we seek tasty food. We don’t want more than anything to have as many kids as possible, and then grandkids. And, we do least of all when we have the Epicurean fruits around us. We evolved by the correlation of impulses to survival and reproduction. This is Darwin’s often confused fitness. And the fittest, in the long run, are the most adaptable, the most versatile. (The core principles of Lean, have the effect of exposing to the operators and engineers the fitness of the operation, of exposing the independent variables.)
“The book raises questions, ” says Roth, “and you answer it. Sentence by sentence, really. Phrase by phrase. Then chapter by chapter, etc. Then draft by draft. And when you’ve answered all the questions, the book is done.”
The Sanhedrin performed an excision on the source of the impulse to bow down before idols, removing it from the human soul, but along with the temptation went the insatiable desire to connect with god, and with that went the talent of prophecy.
Tatz: “What is the drive to idolatry? Isn’t it to go beyond the self and to worship that which is beyond? The faculty that wants to do that is the same faculty that worships Hashem. Only it’s misdirected. But it’s the same organ…. There is a desire to transcend and melt into that which is greater…. As soon as they killed the drive to idolatry, do you know what died with it? Prophecy. What is prophecy? The ability to communicate directly with the transcendent reality². And if you take the organ out of the mind that does that, you lose the drive to idolatry, but you lose prophecy, too.”
Later he says, when describing a subsequent excision, this time on the drive to immoral sensuality, “…again, if you’re thinking, you should ask me a question.”
¹This is a very different maneuver from Descartes’s, by the way. And for a very entertaining history of the interactions of Hobbes and Descartes, read George Hakari’s Soul Machine.
²His voice enters into song at this point in his lecture, and at others.
³For a beautiful example of a character writing herself into existence, read Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel Lavinia.