The meaning of the name Peniel (leading to thoughts on the “liberal” roots of our civilization)

Paul Nachman writes:

Subject: With a name like “Peniel Joseph” …

“Peniel Joseph” is not one of those ridiculous Africa-flavored African American names names like Tomika or Dashika (or, I’m not kidding, LaTrine), but it doesn’t sound “American,” and, sure enough history professor Peniel Joseph is a black, specializing in “African American, Race Relations, Intellectual History, Civil Rights and Black Power.”

He’s quoted in the article that Kathlene M. sent:

“There is a real deep-seated and vicious racism at work here in terms of trying to de-legitimate the president,” Peniel Joseph, a professor of history at Tufts University, told The Ticket.

“This is more than just a conspiracy,” Joseph added. “I think this is fundamentally connected to a conception of white supremacist democracy in this country.” [Emphasis added.]

I was going to object to that “de-legitimate” in the first paragraph (instead of “de-legitimize,”) but that turns out to be OK. However, the sentence I’ve boldfaced is staggeringly stupid in its meaninglessness and sense of being just words thrown together.

LA replies:

Instead of addressing once again the sub-normal reasoning process of Peniel Joseph and so many other blacks and white liberals, I want to talk about his name.

The reason why “Peniel” seems less ridiculous and less alien than many black American names is that it is from the Book of Genesis.

Genesis Chapter 32 tells about the supreme crisis of Jacob’s life. After many years away from home, having originally fled because he stole the birthright of his older brother Esau, he is returning to his home with his wives and his children and his herds and his servants that he has acquired while working for his kinsman Laban in a foreign country. He learns that Esau is waiting for him with a band of armed men, and he expects Esau to exact revenge on him. He sends his family and his followers and his animals over the river and waits alone. He then has a encounter with a mysterious man (who is really an angel, since he is supernatural):

And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.

And he [the angel] said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he [Jacob] said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. [LA notes: The meaning of the name Israel is uncertain, but it is most often taken to mean “he who strives with God.”]

And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. [LA notes: Peniel derives from the word for face.]

And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank.

Thus Jacob prevails in his struggle with the angel, and wins a divine blessing, and a new name for himself and for his descendants. But he also pays a price, henceforth walking with a limp.

Evidently the place name Penuel is a variant on the place name Peniel. This is the first time the place name Penuel appears, and it is mentioned about seven more times in the Old Testament. The name Peniel appears in the Old Testament just this one time.

LA continues:

The idea that Israel had its beginning in Jacob’s act, not of simply obeying God in faith (as was the case with his grandfather Abraham, the exemplar of faith), but of fiercely struggling against God until his desire was answered, reminds me of the point frequently made by a reader in Britain a few years ago, that our tradition is liberal, not conservative. The truth, of course, is that our tradition from the start contains both “conservative” and “liberal” elements. Abraham obeys God in perfect faith, even in his readiness to sacrifice his son Isaac. Such unquestioned obedience to authority seems “conservative.” But in Genesis 18 the same Abraham becomes a kind of “liberal activist,” through great persistence persuading God to be more lenient on the sinning city of Sodom, so that if there are as few as ten just men in Sodom, God will spare the city. (As it turned out, of course, there were not even ten just men in Sodom, or even one, and the city was duly destroyed.) In Exodus 21, immediately after the giving of the Ten Commandments, God gives a series of instructions regarding the humane treatment of slaves. Slaves are not just property, they are human beings and to be treated as such. From the very beginning of the Israelite Revelation, and thus from the very beginning of Christianity, there is a glowing spirit of humanity which is very much connected with liberalism (that is, liberalism in its earlier, less toxic forms). In the Gospels, women have an unprecedented importance. For example, it is Mary Magdalene who first encounters the Risen Christ and tells the other disciples.

This doesn’t make the Jewish and Christian traditions “liberal.” Certainly not liberal in the modern sense. It means, as I said, that our tradition contains both “conservative” and “liberal” elements. Like the reality on which it is based through reason and revelation, our civilization is multi-layered. These respective “layers” are in constant tension, and must be brought into proper balance with each other. That is the ongoing work of Western Man, in every generation.

By contrast, modern ideologies, whether Leftist or Libertarian or Materialist, seek to reduce the structure of reality and the structure of our civilization to ONE element, ONE simplistic, all-ruling principle. This is also, by the way, the reason such ideologies support Islam, or decline to oppose with any force its mortally threatening encroachments on our society. The reason is that Islam, like these ideologies, reduces the world to a single principle, the will of Allah. Christianity is complex. The Christian, Western vision is complex. That is why there will always be frustration with it, and the attempt to throw it off. But it can’t be successfully thrown off, because its complexity is a true reflection of the complexity of the divine and human reality in which we live and have our being.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 29, 2011 10:25 AM | Send

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