On Oct. 1, 1967, China’s National Day, Sidney Rittenberg had reached the pinnacle of his revolutionary career. It was the 18th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and Rittenberg was seated on a reviewing stand less than fifty feet from Mao Zedong, overlooking a sea of thousands who had crowded into Tiananmen Square to mark the occasion.
For a Chinese language version of this story, click here.
Rittenberg was one of the very few foreign nationals who had remained in China after the communists came to power in 1949 and one of an even smaller number who had managed to work their way into Mao’s inner circle, serving the communist leadership as valued advisers, trusted emissaries and even revolutionary leaders.
In addition to Rittenberg, there was Austrian, Jakob Rosenfeld, commanding officer of the Communist 4th Army’s medical unit; Israel Epstein from Poland, a journalist who served as the Chinese government’s head of international public relations; and London-born David Crook, dean of the Beijing Foreign Languages University.
Although their backgrounds were varied and their motivations for coming to China diverse, these doctors, writers and educators had one thing in common — all of them were Jewish.
The story of how thousands of Jews fled Europe, took refuge in Shanghai, and eventually built schools, synagogues and businesses there is one that is well known. This often-told story eventually ends with the departure of all the Jews from China when the communists take over in 1949, a clean and satisfying end to a moving chronicle that leaves no ends loose or questions unanswered.
But in fact, not all those Jews left. Many stayed, and of those who did, a handful lived out dramatic lives that provide a rare glimpse into the early years of Communist China
A backbreaking job treating skunk skins in a windowless building at the heart of Manhattan’s Garment District was certainly not the most obvious or auspicious first step on a path that would eventually lead David Crook to China and into the highest echelons of China’s Foreign Service. His mother, matron of a middle-class Jewish family living in the outskirts of London, originally had much greater aspirations for him. After all, he had shown early promise as a student and had done well enough on his exams to get accepted to Oxford. But before he could even set foot in a classroom, the family business collapsed, a traumatic event that brought his budding academic career to a premature end and dashed his mother’s dreams. Faced with limited prospects and a shortage of funds, Crook eventually accepted an offer of employment, undoubtedly an opportunity of last resort, from a distant relative who was a furrier in New York.
To be sure, tanning skunk pelts for Garment District furriers was a far cry from rubbing shoulders with Oxford dons, but, as harsh an experience as this may have been, it did afford the young Crook a keen insight into the conditions of the working class and an appreciation for its plight. It was a transformative experience that would redefine his view of the world and determine the course his future would take.
Like Crook, Rittenberg early in life developed an appreciation for the challenges and conditions faced by the American worker, although there was nothing in his background to suggest that he would have any affiliation with miners, bricklayers and pipefitters, much less end up playing a central role in the Chinese Revolution.
Scion of a wealthy family that was a pillar of the close-knit Jewish community of Charleston, S.C., Rittenberg grew up in privileged circumstances worlds away from the factory workers and day laborers whose cause he would come to champion. Like Crook, Rittenberg excelled as a student and, although he did well enough to secure admission to Princeton, he too would never set foot on campus. However, Rittenberg’s failure to take advantage of higher education at one of the world’s most prestigious academic institutions was not the consequence of a reversal in family fortune, but the result of a conscious decision to reject an institution whose values, Rittenberg reasoned, were not aligned with his own. Rittenberg concluded that the academic environment provided by an elitist university whose students represented a privileged social class would not suit someone who was an active participant in labor strikes, had joined the Communist Party, and had even spent time behind bars as a consequence of his actions.
Given Rittenberg’s age and circumstances, one might be tempted to dismiss such an unorthodox decision as an act of youthful rebellion, but as Rittenberg’s life unfolded, this inclination toward contrarian positions and strict adherence to principle emerged as a consistent character trait that surfaced at critical junctures and guided his most important decisions.
This admixture of unabashed idealism and commitment to the socially disenfranchised informed a worldview that Crook and Rittenberg shared and that would ultimately bring them to China and sustain them in their darkest days.
Rittenberg’s initial engagement with China was purely coincidental. Shortly after his conscription into the U.S. Army at the outset World War II, Rittenberg learned that his first tour of duty would, ironically, be in a classroom learning Chinese, a language he knew nothing about. Teaching new recruits Chinese was a tactical element of the Army’s broader efforts to build up the resources that would help strengthen its position in a country whose political landscape was shifting and whose strategic value was increasing. Much to his surprise, Rittenberg found that he enjoyed learning the language and soon reached a level of proficiency that qualified him for posting to China and assignment to a unit that was operating on the ground in Shanghai .
The China Rittenberg encountered on arrival in 1943 was in turmoil after years of economic instability, occupation by foreign powers and the looming threat of civil war. He was particularly struck by the abject poverty and dire circumstances that the average Chinese lived. His involvement in relief organizations brought him to the attention of the Communist underground. They sent an agent to approach him with an offer: Join the Communist revolutionaries and serve as a liaison to the representatives of foreign countries, especially the U.S. Rittenberg accepted the offer on the spot, but with one condition — that he be allowed to join the Chinese Communist Party.
The path that Crook followed to China was equally coincidental, but much more circuitous. Recuperating in a Madrid hospital from injuries he had sustained while fighting in the Spanish Civil War, Crook came across a copy of the newly published, “Red Star Over China,” American journalist Edgar Snow’s classic account of the Communist movement in China
Crook, who had become an avowed Marxist, came to Spain to fight in support of those on the left. While there, he was recruited by the Comintern, ostensibly to spy on suspected Trotskyites. Inspired by his reading of Snow’s book, Crook decided that his destiny lay in China. To get there, he proposed to his Comintern handlers that a they send him to Shanghai, a vantage point from which, he suggested, he would be able to keep an eye on a number of prominent Trotskyists who had gravitated to the city and report on their activities. It didn’t take long for Crook to succumb to Shanghai’s various diversions and, much to the KGB’s dismay, was soon paying more attention to handicaps at the race tracks than to the task of spying and intelligence gathering. When Trotsky was assassinated in 1940, the KGB finally decided it no longer had need of Crook’s services and terminated its relationship with him. After some time casting around for other opportunities of employment, Crook eventually drifted into teaching English and was introduced to a member of the Communist movement through an acquaintance.
In contrast to Rittenberg and Crook, who came to China because they were attracted by the prospect of adventure and driven by a sense of mission, Rosenfeld and Epstein came to China to escape deteriorating conditions in their home countries and to avoid being engulfed by a wave of oppression that was sweeping across Eastern Europe and putting their lives at risk.
Rosenfeld, who graduated from the University of Vienna’s prestigious medical school, had no sooner set himself up in practice and embarked on a promising career as an obstetrician than Nazi Germany annexed Austria and promptly set about ridding the country of its Jewish population. Like many other Jewish professionals in Vienna, Rosenfeld was forced to shutter his practice and was eventually sent to a labor camp outside the city, his fate irrevocably sealed. In less than a year, though, Rosenfeld would walk out of the camp with a visa in hand that granted him passage to China and asylum in Shanghai. As miraculous as this turn of events may be, and as vague the circumstances surrounding them, it is plausible to assume that Rosenfeld had the good fortune to come to the attention of Ho Feng Shan, the consul general of the Chinese Consulate in Vienna who single-handedly saved the lives of hundreds of Austrian Jews by exploiting poorly enforced regulations (in cities such as Shanghai, whose systems and infrastructures had been undermined by years of turmoil) to issue so-called “asylum” visas that gave them shelter in China.
Like Shanghai, the city of Harbin at the heart of Manchuria China’s vast northeast region, was in in a state of upheaval. Extension of the Trans-Siberian Railway at the turn of the 20th century had fueled Harbin’s rapid evolution from a remote trading outpost to a full-fledged transport hub and commercial center of strategic value to the Chinese, Russians and Japanese, who by 1930s, were engaged in a tug-of-war over its control. The resulting unrest and dislocation that resulted distorted many of the usual legal rules, political conventions and social norms or dissolved them outright. This combination of factors — a transport hub with poorly enforced regulations — made Harbin an increasingly accessible and therefore attractive destination for revolutionaries, opportunists and refugees.
It was under these circumstances that Epstein’s family came to Harbin in the belief that it would serve them as a haven from the increasingly violent pogroms that were threatening Jewish communities across Poland. A brief encounter with the city’s chaotic urban landscape and the denizens that inhabited it — the American consul who roamed the streets in broad daylight with a drawn pistol in hand, the Japanese film studio director who doubled as a spy with an impressive murder record, and Chinese warlords whose tendency was to shoot first and ask questions later — made it clear to Epstein’s parents that Harbin was a city of questionable safety and certainly no place to raise a young family. In short order, they moved to the city of Tianjin, a bustling port, that today lies just an hour’s train ride southeast of China’s capital, Beijing.
In Tianjin, Epstein received an education in British schools. At a young age, he became interested in journalism, an interest that deepened as he entered his teenage years. By the age of 15, he was freelancing for United Press. He eventually dropped out of school so that he could devote himself full time to reporting on the dramatic events that were unfolding across northern China. Perhaps because of his own firsthand experience with oppression and social upheaval, Epstein, like Crook and Rittenberg, was very sympathetic to the plight of the poor Chinese he encountered, a sympathy that had been cultivated and reinforced by his father, Herman, who admonished the young Israel not to forget the plight that the Jews had suffered.
Epstein’s journalistic talent and the sympathy he expressed in his writing for the Chinese people, attracted the attention of Song Qingling, Sun Yat-Sen’s widow, who took him under her wing. Song Qingling was a visionary who recognized that China’s success in getting the support it needed would depend on the strength of its image overseas, and set about finding ways to enhance that image. Epstein was one of those ways. She enabled him to launch broad-based publicity campaigns targeted at audiences in the U.S. and Europe by leveraging her network of influential contacts and access to significant financial resources. Establishment of the monthly pictorial China Today with Epstein as editor-in-chief was an outgrowth of these efforts. As the country became more and more distant from the West, the publication effectively became (and remained) Communist China’s voice to the outside world.
On the eve of the Communist takeover in 1949, Rosenfeld had achieved the rank of officer in the Communist military, a post he had secured largely by making himself indispensable as a leader and doctor who not only dressed the wounds and eased the suffering of the rank-and-file soldiers but, more importantly, attended personally to the needs of senior revolutionary officers who would later occupy prominent posts in the government of the new People’s Republic of China. Given his standing, Rosenfeld was well-positioned to enjoy the fruits of victory and the rewards for everything he and his Chinese comrades had struggled for. Yet, ironically, even before the revolution reached its victorious conclusion, the “Big-Nose Medical Saint,” as he was known by the troops, decided to return home to Vienna. Now that the war was over, Rosenfeld was convinced that Austria was on the road to recovery and that he would eventually be able to revive his livelihood. He also had learned that his sister was still alive and he was eager to be reunited with her.
On the eve of the Communist victory, Crook was also serving on the front lines in northeastern China, applying his teaching experience to the education of young leaders on the battlefield who would come to occupy senior posts in China’s Diplomatic Corps and laying the groundwork for the establishment that would become China’s Foreign Languages Institute. Crook distinguished himself and gained the trust of the Communist leadership through the degree of his self-sacrifice and, as a party member, willingness to subject himself to self-criticism and abnegation that was as harsh if not harsher than what his Chinese colleagues endured.
Known to the Chinese as “Li Dunbai,” Rittenberg proved his revolutionary mettle and demonstrated his zeal by struggling side-by-side with Mao, Zhou Enlai and other Communist revolutionaries on an arduous 500-mile journey to the refuge of caves in remote Yan’an that would become known as the “Long March.”
Like the other revolutionaries, Rittenberg lived a spartan life in Yan’an and followed a routine that was well-circumscribed: By day, he was an adviser to Mao, providing insights into American policy and drafting official correspondence to President Harry Truman and other American government officials on Mao’s behalf. By night, he was an active participant in the impromptu dances the revolutionaries organized, an activity that enabled him to forge bonds and deepen relationships with influential members of the communist movement that would play a consequential role in his life in China. One such acquaintance was Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, an actress who, in Rittenberg’s estimation, was a lot better at dancing than she was at acting. Rittenberg also served as an occasional translator for the Laurel and Hardy movies that Mao, Zhou Enlai and the other revolutionaries were so fond of watching on Friday evenings after dinner.
The next 30 years that Rittenberg would spend in China had all the arc and sweep of a classic Greek tragedy: The hubris of the young revolutionary eager to make history who is catapulted into the very center of a movement that would change the lives of millions, the reversal of fortune that would lead to a fall from grace, and finally enlightenment, a change from ignorance to awareness.
In the early 1960s, on the eve of a decade of upheaval that would come to be known as the Great People’s Cultural Revolution, Rittenberg was working in the foreign affairs office of the Central Broadcasting Bureau, a powerful organization whose strategic importance would place it on the leading edge of the revolution. Rittenberg, true to his nature, took an active role in the Cultural Revolution at its earliest stages. His engagement in mobilizing workers, organizing revolutionary study sessions and other related activities catapulted him into a position of revolutionary leader.
The following excerpt from a speech he delivered to audiences across the country — from peasants in small villages to students in auditoriums and workers in stadiums — brought him to national prominence and turned him into a celebrity:
“When I was a young man growing up in America, I worked alongside steelworkers and miners. I joined the American Communist Party. So I have experienced at firsthand how capitalism exploits workers. The life of a worker in the U.S. is a tough and painful one. China should avoid going down the path of capitalism at all costs.”
His spectacular revolutionary career reached its apex with the bold takeover of Central Broadcasting Bureau that he engineered as the leader of a radical faction.
Emboldened by his power and success, he increasingly used his speaking platform and stature to bring the revolutionary commitment of others into question and point out contradictions in their behavior, a tactic that ended the careers of not a few innocent citizens and brought misery to their families.
A Reversal of Fortune
One of the targets of Rittenberg’s defamatory speeches was Jiang Qing, who for Rittenberg would always be the B actress and dance companion he knew from Yan’an and, in any event, hardly a threat to someone such as him, who wielded so much power and influence. This turned out to be a severe miscalculation that would ultimately lead to his downfall. Since Yan’an, Jiang Qing, perhaps proving that she was a worthy actress after all, had succeeded in transforming herself into the “White-Boned Demon,” ringleader of the notorious Gang of Four and the object of fear and loathing. In a matter of weeks after delivering his stinging criticism of the woman many had come to see as an object of fear and loathing — hence her nickname — Rittenberg found himself in solitary confinement behind the walls of Qincheng Prison, a correctional facility on the outskirts of Beijing that was less forbidding than Alcatraz, perhaps, but no less notorious.
How does the left countenance their hypocrisy???
Originally, the point of the left was fighting poverty. The argument went that Communism produced more wealth because it removed the inefficiency (greed) of those who owned the means of production. Communism was superior because it produced MORE WEALTH. Nobel prize winning economist Paul Samuelson told everyone this was inevitable.
All those scores of millions of people were murdered in the name of helping the poor. (Paul Samuelson, that degenerate monster, posited the question of whether communist wealth did not make its oppression worth it.)
Then, in the parts of the world where people had defended themselves against the communists and kept the snarling horde at bay, CAPITALISM created never-before-seen wealth. Capitalism ended poverty.
Capitalism delivered the promise of early communism’s most starry-eyed proselytizers.
As I like to say: The Messiah of the left has arrived, but the left has no need for a messiah that actually shows up.
The left abandoned their fight against poverty and forgot that it ever existed. They’ve anointed a new messiah, one that is guaranteed to never arrive and ruin their bloodlust for destroying social orders: equality.
Today I was invited to a US college class to speak about the view on the family in Sweden. I started by talking about Gunnar and Alva Myrdal, the architects behind the Swedish welfare state, free schools, free healthcare and their wonderful underlying social fascist ideals. Spiced it up with a few quotes from their famous book, such as
“The task of prophylactic social policy is to create a better human material and improve the quality of the population stock.”
“Most important is obviously the radical cleansing out of individuals highly unfit for life, which can be achieved by sterilization.”
“Schools must be used as propaganda tools: not only to create more knowledgeable and responsible parents in the next generation, which is important in itself, but also to let children raise up their own parents, a method which has proven effective.”
When I finally explained that home schooling was a criminal offence which can be rewarded with prison time and forced adoption of the children, they looked at me in horror.
I was pleased to see them so quickly cured of their socialist collectivist illusions of the happy welfare state. The students even asked me to come back and spend more time with them.
In one medieval village game, peasants with both hands tied behind them competed to kill a cat nailed to a post by battering it to death with their heads, at the risk of their cheeks ripped open or eyes scratched out by the creature’\冱 frantic claws. Trumpets enhanced the excitement.
Or a pig enclosed in a wide pen was chased by men with clubs until, to the laughter of spectators, he ran squealing from the blows until beaten lifeless.
Accustomed in their own lives to physical hardship and injury, medieval men and women were not necessarily repelled by the spectacle of pain, but rather enjoyed it.
The citizens of Mons bought a condemned criminal from a neighboring town so that they should have the pleasure of seeing him quartered.
It may be that the less than tender medieval infancy produced adults who valued others no more than they had been valued in their own formative years.
-A Distant Mirror by B. Tuchman (pp.141-142)
Pilpul is the Talmudic term used to describe a rhetorical process that the Sages used to formulate their legal decisions. The word is used as a verb: one engages in the process of pilpul in order to formulate a legal point. It marks the process of understanding legal ideas, texts, and interpretations. It is a catch-all term that in English is translated as “Casuistry.”
In order to better understand the term pilpul as it functions today, we must define the way in which that term has been understood in the classical Sephardic tradition and how that understanding has been transformed by the Ashkenazi tradition.
As I was taught by my Rabbi Jose Faur, the Sephardic tradition, emerging out of the Babylonian academies and finding its definitive form in the many legal works of Moses Maimonides, held the Talmudic texts to be oral literature. Using mnemonics, technical terms, and other rhetorical devices to aid memorization and transmission, Sephardim understood the Talmud to be a colloquy of discussions that were drawn from the proceedings of the great rabbinical Academies of Babylonia. The Babylonian Talmud became the basis upon which the Jewish law would be constructed.
. . . .
The Ashkenazi rabbis saw pilpul as a substantive debate over the content of the Law rather than as a simple rhetorical matter. Their understanding of Talmudic pilpul took the form of a radical reinterpretation of the Law.
The scholar Haym Soloveitchik discusses this matter in his 1987 article “Religious Change: The Medieval Ashkenazic Example”:
Many have inferred, and reasonably so, that the Tosafists were not only scholars but communal leaders … like all true leaders they molded the law to fit the needs of their people … What legitimized, in the eyes of the Tosafists, this radical reinterpretation?
“Reinterpretation” is actually a misleading term. More accurately one should ask what led them to read the Talmud, to perceive the Talmud, in a fashion which could be construed as a justification of the status quo.
In this discussion we have the key that will unlock much of the content of contemporary Jewish discourse.
As Soloveitchik states, the Ashkenazi rabbis were less concerned with promulgating the Law transmitted in the Talmud than they were with molding it to suit their own needs. Pilpul was a means to justify practices already fixed in the behaviors of the community by re-reading the Talmud to justify those practices.
There were two ways in which the Ashkenazi rabbis effected this radical reinterpretation of the Talmud:
In Rashi’s Talmud commentary — a required text in every Jewish school in the world — he uses the Aramaic term Hakhi Garsinan, meaning, “This is how the text is to be read.” Whenever this term is used, it indicates that Rashi has amended the text. His emendations were necessitated by the need to bring actual practice in line with the text.
Rashi’s emendations are not a theoretical proposition; the actual editions of the Talmud that we use today reflect the changes. The text of the Talmud was forever remade according to the dictates of Rashi and his school.
As if this was not enough, the Tosafists instituted one more pilpul principle into Talmudic discourse. This was called the Lav Davqa method. In English we might call it the “Not Quite” way of reading a text. When a text appeared to be saying one thing, the Tosafot — in order to conform to the already-existing custom — would re-interpret it by saying that what it seemed to mean is not what it really meant!
In absolute contrast to the Ashkenazi method, the Sephardic tradition, grounded in textual reality and scientific principles, carefully parsed every term in the Talmud; a concern that often led the most prominent scholars to look for the most accurate version of the Talmudic text.
Rashi’s method of emendation and the Tosafist reading based on the Lav Davqa method completely transformed Judaism; the Ashkenazi tradition was the one that ultimately triumphed.
What this means for contemporary Jewish discourse is critical: Even though many contemporary Jews are not observant, pilpul continues to be deployed. Pilpul occurs any time the speaker is committed to “prove” his point regardless of the evidence in front of him. The casuistic aspect of this hair-splitting leads to a labyrinthine form of argument where the speaker blows enough rhetorical smoke to make his interlocutor submit. Reason is not an issue when pilpul takes over: what counts is the establishment of a fixed, immutable point that can never truly be disputed.
Fascinating history lesson from a pseudonymous friend:
People often ask why Europeans profited so much from the slave trade but not the African princes who sold Men like cattle**?
The reason is that it took our princes more than two and a half centuries to accept developments in the theory of money and for these theories to proliferate. Thus, even as the world changed around them and the competition for slaves broke the Portuguese and then Spanish monopsony’s over the trade, the prevailing theories of money on the Guinea Coast barely felt a dent. The African princes preferred not coin or gold but exchanges in kind. They battered ivory, gold and humans for technology, fabrics and beverages. These exchanges obeyed certain ratios that endured for more than two centuries. Attempts to convert some of the more influential princes to coinage and the like failed. In any case it was not in the interest of the Europeans who subscribed to an entirely different theory of money to disabuse these princes of their traditions. (Here I must add that those Europeans who attempted to pay slave traders not in kind, i.e according to the established commodity ratios were often rebuffed or met with suspicion). In this manner, items that were almost worthless in Europe due to improvements in technology and production could still command very high “prices” in Africa because our princes preferred to batter.
If you are thinking that the Africans were thus cheated, you know nothing. In fact you re less than a fool. (Have you perhaps been reading too many marxists and afrocentrists?) The real looting and “underdevelopment” began the day the Europeans convinced Africans to accept fiat (i.e. to work and pay taxes in a coin controlled by Europeans).
** The alternative to slavery under some circumstances was human sacrifice.
The settlement of Polynesia has always fascinated me. There are even two pieces of archeological evidence for Polynesian contact with the Americas — evidence of a species of chicken in present day Chille, and, more romantically, Polynesian canoe technology among a Calfornia NAI tribe.
But how did they cover those endless streches of pacific ocean?
. . . Sharp’s reassessment caused a huge amount of controversy and led to a stalemate between the romantic and the skeptical views.
By the mid-to-late 1960s it was time for a new hands-on approach. Anthropologist David Lewis sailed his catamaran from Tahiti to New Zealand using stellar navigation without instruments. . . . At the same time, ethnographic research in the Caroline Islands in Micronesia brought to light the fact that traditional stellar navigational methods were still very much in everyday use there.
Polynesian navigators employed a whole range of techniques including use of the stars, the movement of ocean currents and wave patterns, the air and sea interference patterns caused by islands and atolls, the flight of birds, the winds and the weather.
Harold Gatty suggested that long-distance Polynesian voyaging followed the seasonal paths of bird migrations.
The first settlers of the Hawaiian Islands are thought to have sailed from the Marquesas Islands using Polynesian navigation methods. To test this theory, the Hawaiian Polynesian Voyaging Society was established in 1973. The group built a replica of an ancient double-hulled canoe called the Hōkūle‘a, whose crew successfully navigated the Pacific Ocean from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti in 1976 without instruments. In 1980, a Hawaiian named Nainoa Thompson invented a new method of non instrument navigation (called the “modern Hawaiian wayfinding system”), enabling him to complete the voyage from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti and back. In 1987, a Māori named Matahi Whakataka (Greg Brightwell) and his mentor Francis Cowan sailed from Tahiti to Aotearoa without instruments.
Did blacks sell blacks?
I will give you a truly remarkable example.
In the 1930s the True Whig Party – a party composed almost exclusively of the descendants of freed American slaves – sold hundreds of Africans to the island of Fernando Po. They also voted to reinstitute the institution of forced (indentured) labour.
This was more than a century after the abolition of slavery in England.
Let that sink in.
I can’t tell if this is stating the obvious or not:
The ancients could kill you in a million different ways and give you a million different reasons why it needed to be done. In much of the pre-modern world, ritual sacrifice was framed as necessary for the good of the society at large — the only way to guarantee, say, a plentiful harvest or success in war.
But the priests and rulers who sanctioned such killings may have had another motive, a new study suggests. An analysis of more than seven dozen Austronesian cultures revealed that the practice of human sacrifices tended to make societies increasingly less egalitarian and eventually gave rise to strict, inherited class systems. In other words, ritual killings helped keep the powerful in power and everyone else in check.
That finding might seem intuitive — societies in which some members are habitually killed probably value certain lives over others — but it has broader implications, the researchers said in the journal Nature. It suggests a “darker link between religion and the evolution of modern hierarchical societies,” they write, in which “ritual killings helped humans transition from the small egalitarian groups of our ancestors and the large, stratified societies we live in today.”