Demons, Horror, and the Book of Psalms

Psalm 91 has long had particular significance for both Jews and Christians. In the siddur, it appears in the Saturday morning and post-Sabbath prayers, and the pious say it every night just before going to sleep. Its sixth verse—as understood by such medieval Jewish commentators as Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac (Rashi) as well as many non-Jewish readers—contains a reference to two demonic forces from whose grip God will provide protection. Philip Jenkins explains how this passage inspired writers of modern horror fiction:

Fiction of all kinds often borrows biblical phrases for titles or motifs in stories, but the Psalm 91 instance is notable because authors deliberately cite it in archaic ways, often in the Latin Vulgate. By doing this, they are deliberately trying to put the reader back into an imagined Middle Ages. They use demonic-sounding phrases, such as the daemonium meridianum, the Noonday Demon, which the King James renders as “the destruction that wasteth at noonday.” Also popular was the cryptic phrase that in English appears as “the pestilence that walketh in darkness.” In Latin that becomes the almost comically non-specific negotium perambulans, which comes close to referring to a wandering thingamajig.

In 1934, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a much-anthologized essay, “Sleeping and Waking,” for Esquire. He addressed the wakeful hours in the middle of the night, “a sinister, ever widening interval” between the early and later spells of comfortable sleep. “This is the time of which it is written in the Psalms: Scuto circumdabit te veritas eius: non timebis a timore nocturno, a sagitta volante in die, a negotio perambulante in tenebris” (91:5–6). He recalled the Vulgate text from his Catholic upbringing, but here he is offering it (untranslated) to a magazine audience that would find it exotic and even exciting, and that is the point.

In the King James, the text reads: “His truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness.”

Read more at Anxious Bench

More about: English literature, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hebrew Bible, Psalms

How America Sowed the Seeds of the Current Middle East Crisis in 2015

Analyzing the recent direct Iranian attack on Israel, and Israel’s security situation more generally, Michael Oren looks to the 2015 agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program. That, and President Biden’s efforts to resurrect the deal after Donald Trump left it, are in his view the source of the current crisis:

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Barack Obama’s singular foreign-policy achievement.

In order to achieve that result, the administration has repeatedly refused to punish Iran for its malign actions:

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran repeatedly to assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one.

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. . . . Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity.

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

Read more at Free Press

More about: Barack Obama, Gaza War 2023, Iran, Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy