Joseph Methuselon’s pessimistic philosophy is the direct outgrowth of his biography: as a self-described “chronic immortal,” he traipses through the centuries on bloody feet, unable to be killed despite endless persecutions. He has survived every Jewish purge from ancient to modern times. To call him merely ‘stoical’ is an understatement: the constant pain he bears tempers his radical masochistic outlook. His most important work, A Guide to the Persecuted, is something of a self-help book for those destined to suffer relentless oppression. A few selections are presented below.
Forsaken from Peace. Walking with God, Adam failed to realize that one cannot attribute to Him the positive qualities of footsteps, or a desire to walk, but only the action of walking. He could not understand that a proclivity for walking is an accidental addition to God’s essence…and so Adam was graciously escorted out of the Garden.
Adam’s descendants are forced to realize their specially chosen nature by being subject to regular persecution. But so as to stand above this inherently consistent destiny, a few among the chosen people experience miracles to realize their purpose in the world—the miracle of survival.
God illuminates the mind of the survivor in conformity with natural law, by hardening his back to the whip of the Egyptian slavedrivers; giving calluses to his feet to endure the long march into exile in Babylon; endowing him with the wisdom of Solomon and the might of David in his forced banishment from England. For those few who receive their insight from a refusal to die, the act of survival contains within itself all belief, all knowledge of the universe.
Summum Malum. No promise that one will overcome perplexity; no guarantee that the survivor will gain knowledge of how to live—he will simply know how not to die. He will know how to persist with the feeling of the gas chamber tickling his throat. Knowing that the Jew’s greatest theologian hid the truth of the incommensurability between the Law of revealed religion on the one hand, and of philosophy on the other, (thus grounding his defense of Judaism in deceit), is enough to forswear the overcoming of perplexity. The survivor, mired in horror, has no emotional energy to overcome or intellectual energy to rationalize. The survivor only endures. His summum malum is the imitation of a deity who allows persecution, and is thereby malevolent—to make no attempt to stop the persecutors of the world from destroying friends and relatives. He watched as whole communities were destroyed for the rumor that Jews poisoned wells to cause the Black Death; he took part in being burnt alive along with 900 other Jews in Strasbourg to prevent the plague from coming to that city, participating in an immolation to which he alone was immune.
The Great Refusal. The concentration camp—that image of death, that essential feature of persecution insofar as death becomes what it is, constituting death’s true character in our times—starves the survivor, works him, wizens him down to the bone, puts a bullet in a vital organ and buries him alive…and still he emerges from his mass grave, climbing over the corpses, refusing to die, suffering the miracle of everlasting life on earth. The survivor is a prophet who announces the truth not in abstractions, nor even in imaginative metaphors and symbolism, but through the marks on his body.
Stages of Knowledge. The limitations of reason are sufficiently recognizable in the mechanization of the horrors undergone, the sheer efficiency of death. The survivor’s reason, cracked and hammered and blasted as it is, can at least recognize this basic restriction on his capacities. He was first trained in the logic of persecution when the Seleucid Hellenizers explained the Jew’s inclusive place in the world; in the mathematics of labor, when he was forced to build the Egyptian pyramids and great structures at Karnak; in the economics of misery when Hadrian imposed a heavy poll-tax upon him; and finally in the metaphysics of oppression, when his plight has been repeated in every succeeding historical period. Few reach this last metaphysical stage, which is a dangerous and overly-subtle subject for the oppressed masses to comprehend—it is easier for them to believe that the pain will end soon, that the present epoch of persecution will be the last. It is easier to think, too, that God is an anthropomorphic being who understands pain as they do. In fact, though, God has never experienced pain; there is no correlation between omnipotence and suffering—a quality as mysterious to Him as He is to us.
Participation in the Omnighted. God, being a hidden and secret God, renders His survivor unable to apprehend the world beyond the senses—a perfectly simple world free from pain. The reality of the survivor’s senses being dominated by pain, he fantasizes of a world beyond it only in the most transitory moments of respite from the lash, and understands such a world not at all. The Jew marvels at the way the gentile goes about his daily activities with machinelike regularity, hastily eating a piece of fruit to fill the belly or ignoring a lover’s growing boredom. Had the Jew a piece of fruit instead of the thin tepid gruel he is daily served by his jailers, he would savor every bite; and had the Jew’s true love not died long ago on the march to Babylon, he would gaze into her eyes as if every moment he were seeing her for the first time. But the reality of pain will only permit brief and occasional imaginings such as these—for he has forgotten them. What does an apple taste like? Was his wife beautiful or plain? He has no memory for such things. Like God, the survivor has an essence without existence, lives without being, and knows his one basic truth without awareness of anything beyond it. The perfectly simple realm of God is something he partakes of, being of all mortals closest to it, and yet remains apart from. Blunted by infinite oppression, he is too exhausted to act out of jealousy, vengeance, wrath, or fury—far from actions springing from anything superadded to his essence, the survivor does not even act at all, but is only acted upon, absorbing his deserved punishment without emotional reaction. He persists and would use imprecise language to grasp clumsily at his state of being, had his tongue not been cut out. The survivor understands through negative thoughts. He is the pale ghost in the courtyard whom everyone ignores, gaining admission into the audience-chamber of the prince through his solitary state of unending torment, his devotion to divine benightedness.
Pure Bliss. Knowing that one is a survivor brings with it a certain happiness, and this is the supreme and only true happiness. The gentile’s happiness is a fleeting mood, but the Jew’s happiness is deep, eternal, and need not reveal itself through smiles. To him, there is a world beyond pain, though he imagines it very imperfectly—indeed, understanding this fact only through pain; it is hope of that other world which links him to the God who tolerates grief in this one. The survivor, after undergoing so much, feels his nerve endings break—in his numbness achieving, finally, a knowledge as perfect as it is possible to have, and a happiness as plausible as can be borne apart from the realms of dreaming or madness. The survivor understands best of all how virtuous it is to suffer oppression, though he be the ultimate scapegoat for all that is evil, alone accepting blame for everything seen as wrong with society, nature, and life itself.
Blaming the Victims. Those who do not survive are unsuitable for the attainment of perfection; their death is proof that happiness and knowledge are things they are not fit to experience. Usually their tempers are too rash, or otherwise too slow to anger; their constitutions lack the proper balance to live through the horrors of a given epoch, being either accustomed to luxury or a novice in the lessons of torture. This is why so many Jews were massacred during the Christian Crusades, and why so many could not bear the ignominious moral preparation of the yellow badge.
Proof of Persecution. To not accept evidence based on traditional forms of liquidation under any circumstances, nor submit to any guidance given by means of personal testimony from survivors, but insist on thorough documentation in the application of gas chambers and furnaces to attain absolute proof for whatever we are to believe—a complete thoroughness which can only be demonstrated through the liquidation of every last member of the species. In the long preparation and swift performance that our bodies would undergo, surely the result is that all men must die before certain knowledge could be attained as to whether the Holocaust was real or simply an elaborate hoax, let alone whether it was God’s will for His chosen people to be so persecuted. This final act of humanity will itself be something of a practical joke upon whatever cosmic voyagers wander upon our barren planet, continuing the hoax of persecution in perpetuity. Thus will we cherry-pick, corpse by corpse, the universe’s ultimate conspiracy theory: to have existed…