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Because of My Grief I Have Spoken : The Psychology of Loss In 4 Ezra

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Because of My Grief I Have Spoken : The Psychology of Loss In 4 Ezra
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  “Because Of My Grief I Have Spoken”: The Psychology of Loss in 4 Ezra 1  Dereck Daschke In his 1917 monograph, “Mourning and Melancholia,” Sigmund Freud defines mourning as “the reaction to the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one, such as one’s country, liberty, an ideal, and so on” (243). Because of the symbolic nature of loss in general, though, it may be said that cultures also mourn in similar ways. Shared events, such as wars or presidential assassinations, induce mourning on a collective level and, as with an individual, lead the society to try to preserve the past while preparing to live in a future shaped, or sometimes defined, by this symbolic loss. One key psychoanaly tic concept also expressed in Freud’s essay states that nothing is ever permanently lost once the ego has made an attachment to it; the goal of mourning is to overcome its unconscious resistance to letting go once reality indicates the bond need be severed. Often, though, the wish for permanence is more powerful than the reality of loss. It short circuits the mourning process by reinforcing the attachment through fantasy, causing episodes of mental reexperiencing in which, in psychoanalytic terms, the rep ressed lost “object” returns, but in distorted forms. This state, a shattering of ego-structure and identity known as melancholia , is also fraught with rage and self-recrimination. Sometimes defensive fantasies in which the mourner destroys the object manifest themselves; other times there are self-annihilating fantasies in which the mourner determines that he or she was never worthy of the lost one’s love at all, and hence is not worthy of anyone’s  love, or even of life itself. In time, however, fantasy gives way to reality. Yet it has, in part, shaped that reality for the individual -- and, if represented in a publicly accessible, creative form, sometimes for a certain community, as well.   The repetitive, or at least paradigmatic, nature of one traumatic loss could hardly find a better illustration than the apocalypses that followed the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C . E . The events of the Babylonian Conquest and Exile to which the prophet Ezekiel, for example, was party in the sixth century B . C . E . became the backdrop for 4 Ezra, 2 and 3 Baruch, and other pseudepigrapha in the second century C . E . These apocalypses, if recognized as responses to the loss or violation of the central symbol of the ancient Judaic world view, the Temple in Jer usalem, appear to do the “work of mourning” ( Trauerarbeit  )   for the Temple for some affected by its destruction. Significantly, the elaborate visions that characterize these works are in fact examples of melancholic fantasies, typically distinguished by rage, revenge, and war. In the latter stages, the same creative space presents an ideal return of the lost object, usually in some other-worldly form, and then proceeds to bring the process to an end by culminating a general structuring of time into a determined resolution that makes the new worldview livable. Mourning is a process by which the living begin to view the world anew, having lost something by which the world was once comprised. It accomplishes this project by renunciation and endurance, which are aspects of work  , but also by creation and fantasy, which are aspects of  play . 2   Who is Ezra? With an apparent reference in ch. 12 to the Flavian emperors of Rome, 4 Ezra (2 Esdras 3-14 in the Apocrypha) is believed to reflect the situation in Palestine around 100 CE . Hence the certain centerpiece of concern in this text is the fate of a Judea still under Roman control almost a generation after the sack of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple. The aftermath of this event played out somewhat differently than it did in 597/587 BCE  -- the Romans  imposed no exile of the upper classes and had ended Judea’s political sovereignty over a century earlier. Still, the end of Second Temple society was a crushing blow to its members, and the future of the Jewish people was by no means self-evident. The question as to why God could allow such an event to happen -- again! -- and what it meant for his Chosen must have imposed itself on anyone with a vested interest in the earthly preservation of the people of Yahweh. One of the fascinating aspects of 4 Ezra is that these questions are played out against a traditional Yahwistic stance in dialogue held by the biblical figure Ezra and a heavenly counterpart, usually the angel Uriel, but sometimes God himself. Neither side really attains the upper hand, creating a unique tension in the narrative that is resolved in one of the great visions of apocalyptic literature. Many have wondered, however, through which side does the author  –   or the seer, Ezra, if th ey are not essentially “one and the same” -- speak? What position, or positions, do they endorse? Some (Harnisch, 1969, 64; Brandenberger 1981) take the answers espoused by the angel to stand in for a traditionalist author’s views; others (Pfeiffer, 1949 , 85; Hayman, 1975, 47- 56) place a skeptical writer’s words in Ezra’s mouth.   But given the weight accorded in the text to both sides, and their unusual resolution by way of a transformative vision, 4 Ezra as a whole resists being reduced to an apologia for one position or the other. Gunkel (1891; 1900) proposed that Ezra and the angel correspond to the inner life of the author, and hence both are quintessentially involved in the statement the text ultimately makes.   The inner conflict is allowed to remain  just that, at least up until the point at which Ezra’s complaints are dispelled by the radical transformation of the problem which he experiences in chs. 9 and 10. Some scholars, like Michael Knowles (1989, 259), have objected to Gunkel’s solution here as “splitting the author’s personality.” Certainly, if the dialogue is merely a literary device which allows two important and creditable realms of inquiry to play out for the author and his  audience, then there is no reason for such a strong label. But any psychoanalytic approach to this figure clearly should suggest that a serious ambivalence lies at its core. The seer remains focused on lamentation, and yet rage and destructive fantasies appear at significant places in the narrative. The dialogues in 4 Ezra likely reveal not the split personality of an author, but a certain reasonable -- although, psychologically speaking, still protective and defensive -- compartmentalization of two competing views of reality: A traditional one, and one based on the experiences of a lifetime that includes the seemingly unending rule of a wicked empire. Emotionally, however, the anxiety this situation has created over an extended period of time begins to break this compartmentalization down. Hence, in what object-relations psychologist D.W. Winnicott (1971) calls the “transitional space” of fantasy, represented here by the dialogues and the visions, the figure of Ezra is sometimes painfully of two minds about the Jews’ lot in this world, including his own. 3 By the same token, John Collins contends that it is probable that the story of Ezra represents the author’s own spiritual journey. As a literary work the book stands as a guide to the perplexed. By identifying with Ezra, the reader can acknowledge the dilemmas of history, but come to experience the “apocalyptic cure” by turning his attention to the transcendent perspective provided by the angel and the dream visions (1992, 168-69). 4  The tension generated by the two coexistent views of reality is palpable; the dialogues serve to express the agenda of each. Significantly, the debate between them ends in virtual standstill. By the end Ezra does not defend his position or question the angel’s so vigorously, but he also never  admits any error in his logic or in the nature of his complaint. The fact is that 4 Ezra presents perfectly a situation of unresolved cognitive dissonance through the three sections of the dialogues, one that gives way not to rational acceptance of the opposing position, but rather to complete emotional reinvestment in a more traditional, if more mysterious and otherworldly, world view. Thus the two sides are necessary for the effectiveness of the narrative as a whole, as they create and then allay in the text the same anxieties felt by Palestinian Jews within a generation of the fall of the Second Temple (Esler, 1994, 108-14).   A number of treatments of 4 Ezra have already picked up on its movement from grief to consolation, and its relationship to the text’s structure, function, and meaning.  E. Brandenburger (1981) and W. Harnisch (1989) emphasize the central transformative significance of the Vision of the Weeping Woman in chs. 9 and 10 that moves the seer from opposition to support, from skepticism to wisdom. Michael Stone (1990, 336), on the same vision, notes that mourning for Zion up to that point “has been the central motive of the book so far; that mourning finds its consolation in the present chapter.”   George Nickelsburg (1981, 286-87; 293) acknowledges the inextricable connections in these texts among the author’s grief, the need for resolution by his society, and what he calls “lamentable facts of life in the present.”   Edith Humphrey (1995, 163) claims that while the plot moves from lamentation to consolation, a palpable transformation occurs along the way, and the initial suffering is most likely the very means by which it occurs.   Collins (1992, 162) recognizes the “psychological process of calming fear and building trust” in the repetitive interaction between Ezra and the angel Uriel. Daniel Merkur (1989, 128-33) provides one of the most in-depth analyses of the role of mourning in these visions, but focuses on a novel aspect: Extreme grief as inductive of visionary experience. Philip Esler (1994, 121) believes that the entire community addressed -- or reached, at any rate -- by this text would be
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