Tendryakov’s Alternate History.

I’ve spent the week reading Vladimir Tendryakov’s Покушение на миражи [Trying to kill mirages, or Assassinating mirages] and wondering why Tendryakov isn’t better known. Like Yuri Trifonov and Arkady Strugatsky, he was part of the generation just old enough to have fought in WWII, and like them he was obsessed with the demands of morality and with the gulf between the generation that fought the war and their flighty offspring who aped Western fashions, cared more about love than duty, and didn’t understand the need to subordinate one’s personal preferences to the good of society. (Larisa Shepitko’s Wings is a brilliant movie on that theme, with a bitter female protagonist.) But Trifonov and Strugatsky were, in some sense, predictable; when you opened one of their books, you knew the kind of thing you were getting. Tendryakov kept trying different things and going in new directions, so he didn’t establish the same kind of brand, and people didn’t have as clear an image when they thought of him; furthermore, he never had the kind of blockbuster hit that keeps your name alive. But everything I’ve read by him has gripped me and made me think.

This book (published posthumously in 1987) could be called a novel of ideas; the primary plot line is about physicist Georgy Grebin trying to find the laws of historical development by using a computer to reconstruct how history would have turned out without Jesus, and there are inserted сказания [legends, tales, Bible stories] that illustrate aspects of that history. But there is an actual plot involving the characters’ lives, a slow-burning one that doesn’t burst into the open until the final pages, which are a real coup de théâtre. I won’t spoil that one, but I will tell you about the opening shock, the first сказание, which occurs after only a couple of pages of reflections on the river of time. There’s a boat on the Sea of Galilee with ten or so fishers from Capernaum and a puny fellow sitting at the prow who turns out to be a prophet born in Nazareth and calling himself the Son of Man. Several episodes from the New Testament are described (“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”; “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”), so it is evident we are dealing with Jesus. The boat goes ashore at Bethsaida, where a rigid stickler for God’s rules named Sadok awaits with his brutal gang of followers. They advance menacingly, Jesus tells his own followers to go back to the boat (which they reluctantly do), and he has a debate with Sadok in which he seems to be getting the upper hand (“You said you were sent by God!” “We are all sent here by God.”). But then Sadok gets impatient, there is a general cry of outrage among his thugs, and… Jesus is stoned to death, three years before he is scheduled to die on the cross. I was very taken aback!

Of course, it turns out that this is the setup for the computer experiment; remove Jesus from the equation, and how does history develop? There is a lot of discussion of the inevitability of slavery once humanity developed the ability to extract more food from the earth than necessary to feed oneself and one’s family, what sense it makes to talk about loving thy neighbor, and the impossibility of being a “good master”; Grebin and his little team (a scientist, a historian, and a computer expert — the computer uses punch cards, which I guess were still a thing around 1980) are trying to make sense of the data they’re getting, and Grebin is hoping his boss at the institute won’t make him an administrator since he seems to be wasting his time on a useless personal project. I imagine many readers would weary of the lack of action, but as an old-line sf reader I loved the whole thing (and was especially pleased to see Tendryakov name-check Ray Bradbury and have a character refer to the butterfly effect). Every night I lay in bed thinking about the day’s reading and how it fit with my own sense of history and Christianity. I just wish someone would translate it so I could recommend it to those who don’t read Russian. And I’m looking forward to reading more Tendryakov.

Meanwhile, I can recommend Rupert Shortt’s TLS essay (December 13, 2019; cached) sparked off by Richard Dawkins’s book Outgrowing God: A beginner’s guide to atheism; Shortt deals with some of the same issues as Tendryakov, and this paragraph quoted from John Cottingham fits right in to the discourse of the novel:

Many scientists talk teleologically. It’s curious, actually, that many people discussing the modern scientific world view use words like random and accidental. We’re just an accidental blip on the face of the cosmos. But that can’t be quite right. It does seem that it is quite natural for galaxies to form. It is natural for some stars to explode into supernovas and to produce heavier elements. It is natural for planets to form and most scientists say that, sooner or later, given the right conditions, life will emerge and then, given the Darwinian principles of selection, intelligence is likely to be favoured. So the scientific conclusion from all that seems to be that the universe is, as the British Astronomer Royal Martin Rees puts it, both biophilic and noophilic, that is to say that it will tend in due course to produce life and intelligence. There is a natural tendency there, if you like, so using words like “accident,” “random,” and so on is in a way misleading.

[Note: I had meant to post this yesterday, but the hosting change got in the way.]

Comments

  1. David Marjanović says

    and most scientists say that, sooner or later, given the right conditions, life will emerge

    Yes.

    and then, given the Darwinian principles of selection, intelligence is likely to be favoured.

    No, why?

    Intelligence can happen when the right conditions arrive, and that includes that all the right things have happened before. And all that put together is, well, astronomically unlikely.

    If we dare do statistics with a sample size of 1, the history of life on Earth shows pretty well that our existence depends on a lot of contingent events that didn’t need to happen. There is no inbuilt direction in evolution. Mutations are random (some of them truly random as a matter of quantum uncertainty); selection is not random, it is determined by the environment, which changes randomly for the most part.

    From what I’ve seen, a great majority of biologists agrees on this nowadays. Simon Conway Morris is loud, but his reasoning contains enough flaws that it hasn’t convinced many people.

  2. Is there a reason for the spelling “Sadok,” rather than the usual “Zadok” (for צדוֹק)?* Of course, in English we do have the S in “Sadducees.” Regardless of spelling, however, it is nice to see Yeshua facing off against Zadokites, who would have been his actual doctrinal adversaries, rather than promulgation of his probably fictitious conflict with the Pharisees.

    On the other hand, it is odd for someone to acknowledge the butterfly effect, yet to persist with an idea that it is possible to model something like human development reliably on a computer. Incidentally, it is actually unclear whether the butterfly from Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder“** has anything to do with the development of the name “butterfly effect.” Edward Lorenz originally used the example of a gull’s wing flap:

    One meteorologist remarked that if the theory were correct, one flap of a sea gull’s wings would be enough to alter the course of the weather forever. The controversy has not yet been settled, but the most recent evidence seems to favor the sea gulls.

    However, he later (after discussion with colleagues), switched to a butterfly, which sounded more picturesque. Whether he or anyone else was thinking of “A Sound of Thunder” is unknown. (Now I wish I had thought to ask him about it a quarter century ago, although I suspect he would have said that at that point he no longer remembered.) Bradbury clearly did not understand the real import of the effect in the story, anyway. “A Sound of Thunder” treats the death (or disappearance) of an animal (whether dinosaur or lepidopteran) as potentially having significant consequences; however, other changes were deemed inconsequential, and the Lyapunov instability that would have driven any divergence far from the neighborhood of the original timeline over the course of millions of years is completely absent.

    * The comment box is trying to be too clever for me, with its handling of Hebrew letters. If I start entering characters from the Hebrew abjad, it starts lining them up right to left, then reverts to left to right when I enter a normal character. I haven’t see this functionality before, and although it makes sense, I find it hard it use (at least for now).

    ** The story was published in 1952, not in any of the science fiction magazines, but in Collier’s.

  3. On the other hand, it is odd for someone to acknowledge the butterfly effect, yet to persist with an idea that it is possible to model something like human development reliably on a computer.

    Yes, that occurred to me as well, but he clearly was swept away by the idea and wanted to work it out. This is the kind of thing that happens when non-sf writers (not used to rigorously stress-testing their clever ideas) try writing sf, and it often annoys me, but not here; I took the computer modeling (on the kind of computer available in the Soviet Union circa 1980!) as a hand-wavy let’s-get-this-thing-on-the-road story-starter like time machines and FTL drives (“warp speed, Scotty!”).

  4. January First-of-May says

    with the development of the name “butterfly effect”

    I heard somewhere – not sure if that’s true – that the butterfly in particular was chosen as a metaphor because the Lorenz attractor looked a bit like a butterfly.

    the computer modeling

    Reminds me of a short story I’ve read once and forgot the name of, probably by Bulychov, where a computer program is developed that allows extrapolations of what someone would look like after X time. Turns out to be very useful for stuff like forensics.

    (There’s a bunch of plotlines, but in the only one I remember, when one of the assistants tries to test it on himself, the program keeps giving errors, and he’s starting to think it’s something sinister. It turns out to be completely […well, almost completely] benign, but I’m not sure if I should spoil the details.)

  5. If you remember the name, mention it; now I’m curious.

  6. January First-of-May says

    Found it; the name is Обозримое будущее, and it is indeed by (Kir) Bulychov.

    In retrospect, looking over the story, I’m not sure if it was a computer program, as opposed to a more complicated apparatus; in sci-fi it’s sometimes hard to tell.

  7. Thanks!

  8. Is there a reason for the spelling “Sadok,” rather than the usual “Zadok” (for צדוֹק)?*

    I’d guess the Russian has “С” rather than “З” (or “Ц”, for that matter).

    Of course, in English we do have the S in “Sadducees.” Regardless of spelling, however, it is nice to see Yeshua facing off against Zadokites, who would have been his actual doctrinal adversaries, rather than promulgation of his probably fictitious conflict with the Pharisees.

    Jesus rather famously did in fact argue with the Sadducees (Matt. 22:23-32, with his main response at verse 30: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.”(NIV))

    (Some smart alec should have responded with Genesis 6:2, but in the gospels, everyone is always astonished into silence)

  9. I’d guess the Russian has “С” rather than “З”

    Yes, I presume that’s what Brett was asking about. I don’t have the answer.

  10. It is саддукеи. Садок is the High Priest צָדוֹק mentioned in several places in the OT (2 Samuel 8:17 etc.)

  11. Садок is the High Priest צָדוֹק mentioned in several places in the OT (2 Samuel 8:17 etc.)

    Yes, but in the story within the story, there is a presumably different person with the same name.

  12. Zadok was a reasonably popular name, especially among the priestly caste, it seems. There is a long-running question of whether the Sadducees are named after the Zadok from David’s time or a later individual (who might have also been named Zadok—a purported descendant, perhaps—or might not). The high priest Zadok from the time of the David and Solomon is usually assumed to have been a local priest from Jerusalem (who supported David after his arrival in the region and was raised to the high priesthood as a reward). One possible indication of this is that Zadok supported the (Jerusalem-born and local on his mother’s side) claimant Solomon after David’s death. Moreover, a couple of earlier individuals who are associated with the Jerusalem region have the (possibly theophoric) names Melchizedek and Adonizedek. The stories involving these individuals are seemingly purely fictional, but they do provide indications of what kinds of names the later chroniclers considered natural for the pre-Davidic (probably Jebusite—whatever exactly that means) nobility in the vicinity of Salem.

  13. Well, first of, Sadok was a Pharesee according to Tendryakov, whatever you may think about his name.

    While looking it up and thinking whether Tendryakov had any particular Sadok in mind, I happened onto a strange discrepancy between Russian and Hebrew (and English) texts. The most important Sadok/Zadok (it would be a funny name in Russian with “Z”, a little ass (like in buttocks), while with “S” it’s a little orchard) is the one who travelled with David and participated in David’s flight from Absalom, as described in 2 Samuel 15 (2 Kingdoms in Russian).

    English text of verse 24 is “Zadok was there, too, and all the Levites who were with him were carrying the ark of the covenant of God. They set down the ark of God, and Abiathar offered sacrifices until all the people had finished leaving the city.” (NIV) But David decided to send the Ark back to Jerusalem and so on. What is strange though is that the Russian text after saying that Zadok and Levites were carrying the ark says also that they carried it “from Vefara”. So what is Vefara? Apparently no one knows. It happens to be in LXX, where it is called Βαιθάρ, but not in MT. Maybe it is not a place name, but Abiathar who probably was in charge of the ark got transformed into Baithar? By the way, LXX uses Σαδδὼκ for Zadok, so that’s where Russian probably got it from.

  14. Is there a reason for the spelling “Sadok,” rather than the usual “Zadok”

    Bugga! And now I’ve gotten an ear-worm of the Handel. The neighbours will be thinking I’m some sort of Royalist.

  15. D.O.: It is indeed a place name. It’s in the Septuagint but not in the Masoretic text of the verse.

  16. Y, thanks! That’s indeed a much better hypothesis. Only I am not sure how Betar can be mentioned in Joshua 15:59, because it says explicitly “six cities”.

  17. That also appears in the LXX but not in the Masoretic text (there’s an English translation of the LXX here.)

  18. David Marjanović says

    So what is this German-looking z doing in there, if it’s not even in the Septuagint?

  19. Hebrew צ is usually rendered σ in the Septuagint:

    צִפּוֹרָה Σεπφωρα (Zipporah)

    צְפַנְיָה‎, Σοφονιας (Zephaniah)

    צִיּוֹן Σιων (Zion)

    בַּעַל צְפֹן Βεελσεπφων (Baal-zephon)

    יִצְחָק Ισαακ (Isaac)

    פָּרֶץ Φαρες (Perez, Pharez)

    אֲחִימַעַץ לְצָדוֹק Αχιμαας υἱὸς τῷ Σαδωκ (Ahimaaz, Zadok’s son)

    How did the spellings with z enter the western European tradition? The OED has this to say about the z in some western European languages in its etymological section of its entry for the word Zion

    < post-classical Latin Sion the name of one of the hills of Jerusalem, also (in extended use) the city of Jerusalem (especially in filia Sion ‘daughter Zion’), the Jewish people, the heavenly city (Vulgate), the Church (4th or 5th cent. in Augustine) < Hellenistic Greek Σιών one of the hills of Jerusalem, also (in extended use) the city of Jerusalem (especially in ἡ θυγάτηρ Σιών ‘daughter Zion’), the Jewish people, the heavenly city (Septuagint, New Testament) < Hebrew Ṣiyyōn, the name of one of the hills of Jerusalem (2 Samuel 5:7, etc.)…

    The form with initial z is apparently first attested in the Geneva Bible. With it perhaps compare Middle French, French Zion (1535 or earlier), variant of the more common Sion (12th cent. in Old French). German Zion (16th cent., e.g. in Luther) is pronounced with initial /ts/ (so could have influenced the French and English forms with z-only by purely graphic analogy); it perhaps reflects an Ashkenazi pronunciation of the Hebrew place name.

    I wish the OED said more than “it perhaps reflects an Ashkenazi pronunciation of the Hebrew place name”. Do they mean that z was chosen widely over western Europe to represent the usual Ashkenazic pronunciation of צ as /t͡s/, as the Reformation stimulated Christian scholars to pay closer attention to Jewish tradition and scholarship? The Lutherbibel (1545) has Perez, Baal Zephon, Ahimaaz der son Zadok, etc., except in the well-established Jsaac (as far as I have spot-checked them). But it also has die Saduceer. Presumably an etymological link of Greek Σαδδουκαῖοι (whatever its exact etymology) with צָדוֹק Ṣādōq (Zadok) and other derivatives of the root ṣdq was not felt strongly enough. Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Coverdale have Sion (Syon). Similarly, they have s in the other names I listed above as far I as have spot-checked them. But then the KJV has z except in Isaac. Surely someone has investigated this introduction of z and published the results—I would love to know if someone can find a study of the topic.

  20. Xerîb: Wow, thanks — I had vaguely wondered about that but never bestirred myself to investigate it. I join you in your final wish for a study. (I just noticed a difference in the new LH: it used to say “Xerîb says:” with a colon before a comment; now there’s no colon.)

  21. Bugga! And now I’ve gotten an ear-worm of the Handel.

    I was just singing it to myself when I read the comment.

  22. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Your neighbours hear your earworms?

  23. Two perhaps unrelated points:

    1. “Assassinating mirages” sounds like a Docetist account of the crucifixion of Christ.
    2. The possible alternative spelling Zadduzeez (maybe ZadduZeez would be better?) sounds like a third-tier ’80’s hair metal band, perhaps just adjacent to the “Christian rock” subgenre.

  24. Rashi regularly transcribes French <z> ([t͡s]) and medial <c> ([d͡z]) as צ, so in his “Ashkenazi” Hebrew צ was an affricate. According to Khan, the Tiberian pronunciation of צ was [sˤ].

  25. David Marjanović says

    as the Reformation stimulated Christian scholars to pay closer attention to Jewish tradition and scholarship

    That makes sense.

    According to Khan, the Tiberian pronunciation of צ was [sˤ].

    On what evidence?

  26. DM: The main evidence he quotes is that it’s transcribed in Arabic with a ṣād, which has (and had) that phonetic value, although he also notes one Karaite transcription where it’s represented with a sīn, i.e. [s]. Phonetic descriptions of the time make no reference to affrication, but there are no other affricates in Hebrew to compare it to.

  27. David Marjanović says

    Well, the Arabic ṣād is obviously enough cognate that it might have been chosen for that reason. There’s also the question of how old the tradition to transcribe it that way is, because there’s evidence that the Arabic ṣād was still an affricate in early Classical Arabic.

    From when and where is that Karaite transcription?

  28. @J.W. Brewer: “Assassinating mirages” sounds like a Docetist account of the crucifixion of Christ.

    It sure does. The Russian word покушение refers to an attempt, typically at some wrongdoing; today the most common meaning is an assassination attempt (possibly successful). An old legal term survives in the dated expression “покушение с негодными средствами.” An attempt by/with inadequate means, like trying to force a locked door open by repeating “open Sesame.”

    I recall reading that novel when it was first published but I’ve completely forgotten the ending.

  29. It’s an assassination attempt indeed, but “mirage” is just an euphemism for, I don’t know, religion maybe?

    The characters in the novel are trying to kill Jesus Christ.

    It’s an attempt to remove Jesus from history by computer modeling, the characters even refer to their “assassination attempt conspiracy” in the text, no doubt, somewhat in awe of what they are trying to do.

    But for some reason they actually fail – the computer model resurrects Jesus and nobody can figure out why.

    A miracle in the computer!

    Very good religious SF premise, Arthur Clarke would approve.

  30. From when and where is that Karaite transcription?

    Khan’s discussion of ṣade begins page 220 of volume 1 of his recent work, The Tiberian Pronunciation Tradition of Biblical Hebrew (2020), which can be downloaded for free.

    Here is the British Library’s information page on the Karaite manuscript in question, and here is the transcription, Ecclesiastes 10.8 וּפֹרֵץ ûfōrēṣ “and he who breaks”, transcribed in line 3 of the page as

    وڡورىس

    (that is, وفوريس ). Khan’s brief discussion of the Karaite sources begins on page 122 of the work linked to above.

  31. “mirage” is just an euphemism for, I don’t know, religion maybe?

    No, the point is that the Jesus they kill isn’t a real person but a computer simulation — a mirage.

  32. That said, it’s a pretty lousy title.

  33. P.S.

    Languagehat readers may enjoy the website associated with Khan’s recent publication:

    https://www.tiberianhebrew.com/

    It feature readings in reconstructed pronunciation from Alex Foreman. Maybe this website has been mentioned on LH before?

  34. PlasticPaddy says

    @hat
    “Phantom assassination” would seem to work in English. I agree that the Russian title would be more correctly rendered by “Assassination of a Phantom”.

  35. David Marjanović says

    Ah, 13th–14th century, so definitely long after ṣād or anything else was [ts] in Arabic. While it’s still interesting that sīn is used and not ṣād, it’s far too young to tell us anything about Tiberian pronunciation.

    Fun fact: the manuscript was bought from Moses Wilhelm Shapira.

    Maybe this website has been mentioned on LH before?

    No, but Foreman’s blog has been mentioned a few times, including his performances of his reconstructions of various pronunciations of Hebrew!

    The book looks promising, I’ll try to read it ASAP, like… next month or so maybe. :-/

    Oddity of the website:

    This site is dedicated to Geoffrey Khan (Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Cambridge), who has advanced the field of Tiberian Hebrew studies significantly over the past few decades. Much of the content here is either based on or inspired by his work and research.*

    *Views and opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not imply any endorsement on the part of Prof. Khan unless explicitly cited or quoted.

    Is this a fansite? Do regius professors have fans?

  36. DM: Khan makes another point, which he does not develop explicitly enough in his discussion of צ. Zayin in Tiberian also had a pharyngealized allophone, i.e. [zˤ], which makes an [sˤ] plausible in the phonetic inventory as well.

    P.S. I don’t know where Khan’s surname comes from. In Hebrew it is transcribed כאן /kan/ (same as the word for ‘here’), whereas the South Asian title/surname is transcribed חאן /xan/.

Speak Your Mind

*