Archive for December, 2012

The Silmarilion

December 31, 2012
Cover of "The Silmarillion"

Cover of The Silmarillion

 

There are no Hobbits in J. R. R.  Tolkien’s Silmarilion. This may appear to be a trivial observation but it is an observation worth considering when reading Tolkien’s works. Tolkien, it seems, wrote in two styles. He had a “low” style that he used in The Hobbit. This was a familiar, wryly humorous style, perhaps too deliberately written for children in places to be entirely successful as a children’s story. The other style is a grand, epic style, more suited for the affairs of kings, elves and great battles. The Lord of the Rings was a mixture of these two styles. It began in much the same style as The Hobbit, but as the story became more serious and the danger of the Ring and its pursuers more acute, the style became darker and more serious to match. By The Return of the King, with its tale of the great War of the Ring, the style became almost entirely, but not quite, the grand style. There were always the hobbits to return the story to a more down to earth level.

 

The Silmarilion is written entirely in the grand style. The stories are epic tales of gods, elves and men fighting against the first, and far mightier, dark lord Morgoth. There is little room for the sort of humble details of everyday life found in The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings. The characters are all kings and heroes of ancient times, not humble gardeners. This is not to say that The Silmarilion is not a good book to read. It is an excellent book, and Tolkien is, in his way, comparable to the great composers of national epics like Homer or Vergil. That was indeed his intention when he began writing these stories of the Elder Days and to some extent he did succeed.

 

 

There are actually five parts to the Silmarilion. The first part is called the Ainulindale and tells of the creation of the world by Eru, the One, who the Elves call Illuvatar. Illuvatar first creates the angelic powers or Ainur, and teaches them to sing to a melody He has made. This song was a vision of the world and many of the Ainur longed to dwell in that world so Illuvatar created it and sent the Ainur, or Valar to complete the work of creating and ordering the world. This they did against the opposition of Melkor, the mightiest of the Valar, and one who sought to rule the world for himself.

 

The next section is called the Valaquenta, is simply a list of the chiefs of the Valar and their names, and attributes. There is not a narrative here, but it is useful to read it as a guide for later

 

The middle and longest section is the Quenta Silmarilion, or the Silmarion proper. This is the epic story of the Elves in the First Age of Middle Earth. The Silmarilion tells of the awakening of the Elves in the dark times when Melkor ruled Middle Earth. The Valar go to war against Melkor to save the Elves and he is defeated and imprisoned. TheValar then offer to take the Elves to their home, Valinor, far in the West. Many Elves agree to make the long journey and are named the Eldar. Many others prefer to stay in Middle East and call themselves the Avari.

 

The Eldar travel to Valinor and become mighty in lore and power. The most skilled of all the Elves is Feanor and his greatest work is the three jewels, the Silmarils in which he captured the light of the Two Trees of old. After a time Melkor feigns repentance and is released. He poisons the Two Trees, steals the Silmarils and flees to his stronghold in Middle Earth. Against the will of the Valar, Feanor leads his clan, the Noldor in pursuit of Melkor, who he has renamed Morgoth, the Black Enemy.  Feanor is slain but the Noldor and their allies among Elves and the new race of Men continue the war. They fight bravely against Morgoth and managed to confine him to his stronghold for many years, but in the end, their war is hopeless. Morgoth has hosts of Orcs, troll, Balrogs and dragons and is himself a Valar, one of the mightiest beings in the world. The Elves and their allies are utterly defeated only the intervention of the Valar prevents Morgoth from ruling forever. Morgoth is defeated and the Silmarils are lost.  Much of Middle Earth is damaged beyond repair and the Western lands where the Noldor fought and died is submerged beneath the sea.

Morgoth

Morgoth

 

The Akallabeth tells of the history of Numenor, the island that the Valar gave to the Men who fought on the side of the Elves. (Most Men sided with Morgoth).  The Numenoreans were given a life span beyond any of the Men of Middle Earth though they were not immortal and could not travel to Valinor. Over time, the Numenoreans grew increasingly jealous of the immortality of the Elves and since they could not make themselves immortal, they began to seek for wealth and dominion in Middle Earth. The last king of Numenor, Ar-Pharazon challenged Sauron, the servant of Morgoth, for the rule of Middle Earth, actually defeated him, and carried him back to Numenor as a hostage. Sauron quickly gained the confidence of Ar-Pharazon, and preying on the old king’s fear of death, induced him to assault the Valar and wrest immortality from them. This ended with the destruction of Numenor and the Numenoreans with the exception of a few refugees led by Elendil.

250px-Darrell_Sweet_-_The_Fall_of_Numenor

 

The final part of the Silmarilion, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, relates the history of the dealings of Sauron and the Elves of Middle Earth. Sauron deceived the Elves into creating the rings of power and attempted to enslave them by forging his own One Ring in Mordor. There is a brief summary of the history told in the Lord of the Rings and a brief mention of the destruction of the ring by Frodo the Halfling and his servant Samwise. After this, the last remaining Eldar of Middle Earth, rendered powerless, leave for Valinor and the cycle is finished.

 

This is a rather grim cycle of tales, probably inspired by Tolkien’s love of the rather grim Nordic mythology.  Unlike the Norse tales, evil is defeated in the end, but the damage done can never wholly be undone.  Then evil arises again after an age. Oftentimes evil corrupts or misleads the good and sometimes the most damage is done by those who fight most valiantly against evil. Beren and Luthien wrest a Silmaril from Morgoth so that Beren can present it to Luthien’s father as bride price, but the Silmaril causes wars among Elves and Dwarves and the sons of Feanor and eventually causes the destruction of all the Elf-kingdoms. Turin son of Hurin spends his whole life fighting the servants of Morgoth, and is cursed because in the end all his valiant deeds only bring about Morgoth’s victory.  Even when Morgoth is defeated, the evil he does lives on to afflict later ages, as does his servant Sauron.

 

When Sauron is, in his turn defeated, and his Ring is destroyed, the Eldar also rendered powerless, no longer wish to live in Middle Earth and return at last to Valinor leaving a colder, grayer world for those of us who are doomed to stay behind.

the_shores_of_valinor-791987

 

 

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Banning Toy Guns

December 31, 2012

One of the sillier responses to the recent school shooting in Connecticut is a re-launch of a movement against toy guns. I read about it here on Fox News.

 A crusade against toy guns that began in 1987 is being re-launched following the elementary school shooting in Connecticut that left dozens dead.

Santa Monica activist Jerry Rubin says a personalized merit award will be sent to children who write to him about why they don’t like playing with toy guns.

Rubin says his anti-toy gun project used to reward children who sent in their toy guns with teddy bears in exchange, but stopped after he ran out of the 5,000 donated stuffed animals.

Less than two weeks ago, 20 children and six adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

Over the years, Rubin’s grassroots campaigns against violence and in favor of environmental causes have made him a familiar figure in Southern California news.

I begin to get the impression that much of the impetus behind support for stricter gun control legislation stems not from any rational consideration of the cost and benefits of the effects of such legislation, but from a vague feeling that guns are icky. Ickiness is hardly an important consideration  in a debate on how to balance personal freedom against the safety of the community, but in this, as in so much else emotions trump reason. Consider the recent confrontation between David Gregory and the NRA‘s Wayne LaPierre.

Banning high capacity magazines won’t make any difference, as LaPierre pointed out, but they look scary and are icky. There is not a consistent definition of “assault rifles”; they are the ones that look scary and icky so should be banned, and on and on.

 

Pay Raise for Biden and Congress

December 30, 2012
Joe Biden

He got a raise.

It’s nice to know that Vice-President Joe Biden and Congress will be receiving well deserved pay raises for all the hard work they have been doing for us. I read about this in the Weekly Standard.

President Barack Obama issued an executive order to end the pay freeze on federal employees, in effect giving some federal workers a raise. One federal worker now to receive a pay increase is Vice President Joe Biden.

According to disclosure forms, Biden made a cool $225,521 last year. After the pay increase, he’ll now make $231,900 per year.

Members of Congress, from the House and Senate, also will receive a little bump, as their annual salary will go from $174,000 to 174,900. Leadership in Congress, including the speaker of the House, will likewise get an increase.

Here’s the list of new wages, as attached to President Obama’s executive order:

I don’t now. Personally, I think that at some point you have made enough money and when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody. Maybe the president will spread some of his wealth around to me.

By the way, have you ever noticed that the people who rail about the wealthy the most seem to be among the wealthiest themselves?

Sick and Tired

December 29, 2012

I have been sick since the day after Christmas and I am really tired of it. I actually called in sick last Thursday, which is something I never do. Every time I start to feel a little better, I start to feel worse again by the end of the day. What is really frustrating is that I keep getting ideas on things to write about, but I am too tired to do anything.

Statue of Stalin Restored in Georgia

December 26, 2012

I waited until after Christmas to publish this post because, frankly, it is more than a little depressing. It would seem that the genocidal dictator and top contender for the title of most evil man in history, Joseph Stalin, is actually a hero in his native Georgia. Here is the story at Bloomberg News.

Villagers in Georgia have restored a statue commemorating Josef Stalin, with residents of his birth town of Gori also considering plans to rebuild a monument to the former Soviet dictator.

The statue, which was removed last year, was reinstated in a ceremony yesterday in Alvani, in the Akhmeta region north-east of the capital Tbilisi. Villagers gave speeches, recited poems and talked of “happier times” during Stalin’s reign.

Stalin remains a divisive figure in his birthplace, with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili having denounced statues of the Second World War leader as a reminder of the Soviet Union’s control of Georgia. Saakashvili’s party was unexpectedly defeated by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili’s opposition coalition in October. Ivanishvili has expressed willingness to improve ties with Russia.

“Long live Stalin, he liberated us from fascism and improved Georgians’ lives, while Saakashvili’s government did nothing but destroy the economic glory of Georgia,” Grisha Oniani, an entrepreneur who is collecting Stalinist memorabilia, told a crowd in Alvani.

The Stalin statue was removed from Gori in 2010. Georgia’s parliament voted to ban Soviet symbols in 2011, 20 years after the country declared independence from the Soviet Union. Georgia and Russia fought a five-day war over the breakaway region of South Ossetia in 2008 and relations between the two countries remain tense.

It is not as if Stalin showed any particular favoritism towards his native land while he ruled the Soviet Union. I found an extensive history of Georgia under Stalin’s rule here. There is quite a lot there and I can’t do any more than give a few highlights. It is enough to say that the Georgians have no reason to honor Stalin. He was the worst thing to ever happen to that country.

To start with, Stalin took a harder line on the trans-Caucasian nationalities than Lenin or Trotsky did. Lenin wanted to avoid a bloody conquest of the region, even if it meant leaving the Bolshevik’s rivals, the Mensheviks in power. Stalin wanted to crush an independent Georgia in order to destroy his personal enemies there. Stalin ultimately got his way in this. Stalin was also in favor of the “Russification” of the Soviet Union, promoting the Russian language and culture at the expense of the other nationalities, including Georgia. Stalin’s collective farming campaigns hit Georgia even worse than Russia and the Ukraine, as did his purges. Many thousands of Georgian died and many more had little choice but to flee to the woods and mountains and try to fight for their lives. The selection ends with this assessment of the most famous Georgian.

Stalin’s death removed from the world stage the most formidable Georgian of all time, a man who combined almost superhuman tenacity and force of character with quite subhuman cruelty and criminality. He took over a Russia backward and divided, and pitchforked it forcibly into the twentieth century. By methods which cannot be condoned by any standards of human or divine morality, he fashioned the social and industrial springboard from which the Soviet Union today is leaping irresistibly forward as one of the two dominant world powers of our generation.

It is a strange and inverted world in which this monster has a statues raised in his honor anywhere in the world.

Not So Merry Christmas For Many

December 25, 2012

I hope everyone who is reading this is having a very, merry Christmas and that you are all having a wonderful time with your families. As you celebrate this joyous holiday, keep in mind that Christmas is a time of fear for Christians in the Middle East. There are a couple of articles at Jihad Watch that I think are worth sharing.

First, Christmas in Pakistan. This article is from Deutches Wille.

Christians celebrate Christmas amid growing fear of persecution and rampant economic and social discrimination in Muslim-majority Pakistan. The year 2012 was one of the worst years for them in the country.

In many parts of the world, Christmas means a time of celebration. But for Christians in Pakistan, who live under constant fear of persecution by the state and majority Sunni Muslims, there is not much to celebrate.

Christians make up about two percent of the 180 million people living in Pakistan. Rights organizations say that like any other religious minority, they face legal and cultural discrimination in the Islamic Republic.

Blasphemy is a sensitive topic in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim. Controversial blasphemy laws introduced by the Islamic military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s make life for Christians more difficult. Activists say the laws have little to do with blasphemy and are often used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas; they say the Christians are thereby often victimized.

Before the rise of Islamic extremism and religious intolerance in Pakistan, Christians celebrated Christmas with much enthusiasm. They would put stars on their houses and decorate their towns with lights and flags. But many now worry about the risk of being conspicuous.

“We are scared. We are frightened. We cannot sit together, we cannot speak loudly, we cannot celebrate openly. We receive threats,” Ashraf Masih, a street sweeper, told AFP. “If we sit together and talk, all of a sudden the Muslim owner of the house will come and ask ‘Why are you here, what are you talking about?'”

Qadri was celebrated by extremists for the murder of a governor critical of blasphemy laws

Aslam Masih, a 37-year-old gardener, told AFP in an interview that previously they used to celebrate Christmas in the town church but now it it had been closed.

Here is Robert Spencer’s piece at PJ Media on the jihad against Christmas.

Armed guards are patrolling outside churches in Nigeria. Christians in Pakistan and Indonesia are cowering in fear. Why? Because it’s Christmastime.

Many Muslims take a dim view of Christmas at best, and at worst actively menace Christians celebrating it. This is a worldwide phenomenon. Sheikh Yahya Safi, the head imam of Australia’s largest mosque, summed up an all-too-common view when he warned in a fatwa Saturday that “disbelievers are trying to draw Muslims away from the straight path,” and that “a Muslim is neither allowed to celebrate the Christmas Day nor is he allowed to congratulate them.”

Likewise the chairman of Indonesia’s top organization of Muslim clerics declared: “It’s better if they don’t say ‘Merry Christmas.’ It’s still up for debate whether it’s halal or haram, so better steer clear of it. But you can say ‘Happy New Year.’”

Muslim intimidation and violence against Christians around Christmas is only an extension of the intimidation and violence Chrisitans increasingly suffer throughout the year. Yet these incidents have received only scant attention in the mainstream media. And not only the international media, but also the human rights establishment and the United Nations continue to take virtually no notice. In their conceptual framework only Westerners can do evil and Christians cannot possibly play the role of victim. The chimera of “Islamophobia” consumes their time, attention, and resources; after being so consumed with this fiction, what can be left over for the actual persecution of Christians?

And so for the all-too-real Christian victims of Muslim fanaticism and hatred in Islamic lands, it’s yet another quiet, hushed, precarious Christmas.

And last, Christianity began in the Middle East yet the religion is close to being extinct there. Centuries of discrimination and intimidation ave decimated the oldest Christian communities in the world. Jihad Watch has an article from the Telegraph on this.

The study warns that Christians suffer greater hostility across the world than any other religious group.

And it claims politicians have been “blind” to the extent of violence faced by Christians in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam, it says, claiming that oppression in Muslim countries is often ignored because of a fear that criticism will be seen as “racism”.

It warns that converts from Islam face being killed in Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Iran and risk severe legal penalties in other countries across the Middle East.

The report, by the think tank Civitas, says: “It is generally accepted that many faith-based groups face discrimination or persecution to some degree.

“A far less widely grasped fact is that Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers.”

It cites estimates that 200 million Christians, or 10 per cent of Christians worldwide, are “socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs.”

“Exposing and combating the problem ought in my view to be political priorities across large areas of the world. That this is not the case tells us much about a questionable hierarchy of victimhood,” says the author, Rupert Shortt, a journalist and visiting fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford.

He adds: “The blind spot displayed by governments and other influential players is causing them to squander a broader opportunity. Religious freedom is the canary in the mine for human rights generally.”

And yet Islamophobia is supposed to be a major problem of our time. If you are not afraid of the most violent and intolerant religion in the world than you are not paying attention to what is going on.

Merry Christmas to all. Hopefully Christmas will be a time of joy for everyone sometime soon.

 

 

NORAD Santa Tracker

December 24, 2012

Once again NORAD is tracking Santa Claus as he makes his yearly trip around the world delivering presents. Right now he is in the Balkans. He’s already covered all of Asia and Australia.

Here is a story on NORAD’s Santa tracking facilities. There seem to be quite a few grinches (or trolls) in the comments section.

Update 5:45 The jolly elf is on his way to Poland.

Update 6:30 Santa has just left Paris..

Update 7:30 Santa is in Senegal right now. I think he is getting ready to make the jump across the Atlantic.

Update 7:45 He’s going through the Sahara. It looks like he hasn’t reached Spain or Britain yet, so we still have some time here in America.

Update 8:10 I was right. Santa is over Spain now.

Update 9:00 Santa is flying over Greenland now. I had better get to bed.

In the Beginning was the Word

December 24, 2012

The Gospel of John does not include the story of the nativity. Instead John goes right to the beginning, the beginning of the world.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:1-18)

Raphael's "School of Athens"

Here they all are.

The Word mentioned in the first verse is a translation of the Greek word λογος (logos). Logos means word in Greek, but it also means reason or thought. Logos is the root of the English word “logic” and the suffix “-ology”, as in biology, geology,astrology. In Greek philosophy logos came to mean the rational principle of the universe. The Greek philosophers taught that the universe is a rational, orderly world that functions according to rational laws rather than by the arbitrary whims of changeable deities. Because the universe itself is rational, its laws and structure may be learned through the use of reason.The Greek philosophers, especially the Stoics who tended to be pantheists, tended to identify this rational principle, or logos, with God, although their conception of God was rather impersonal.

During the Hellenistic Era, Jewish philosophers sought to synthesize Greek philosophy with the Hebrew scriptures and thought. The leading proponent of this effort was Philo of Alexandria who lived from around 20 BC to AD 50. He identified the logos with God’s spoken Word which created the Heavens and the Earth.

Philo of Alexandria

Philo of Alexandria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (Gen 1:1-5)

He also identified the logos with God’s wisdom, by which God created the world.

For the word of the Lord is right and true;
he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of his unfailing love.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars[a];
he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm. (Psalms 33:4-9)

and

22 “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago,
at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
when there were no springs overflowing with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the world or its fields
or any of the dust of the earth.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary
so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30     Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind. (Proverbs 8:22-31)

In  identifying the logos with divine Wisdom and the divine creative force, Philo seemed to regard the logos almost as a being distinct from God, or perhaps as an separate aspect of God. In this way he seems to have anticipated Christian thinking on the logos. Consider Paul’s statement in Colossians.

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col 1:15-20)

John identified Jesus with the logos and Paul with the Wisdom that was present at the creation. In both cases they clearly indicated that Jesus is divine. This then, is the true meaning of Christmas. ( I was getting to that.) Linus was correct to quote Luke to explain the meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown, but his explanation was a little incomplete. Jesus was not just a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. Jesus was and is the everlasting God who created the Heavens and the Earth. The true meaning of Christmas is that this God humbled Himself and sent His Son to suffer and die for our salvation.

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Phil 2:6-8)

This seems to have become more of an Easter post than a Christmas one, but I did want to include the Gospel of John. John does not mention the birth of Jesus but I thought it worth mentioning that the birth in Bethlehem is not really the beginning of the story, but the climax, the culmination of God’s intervention in Human history.

 

The Nativity According to Matthew

December 23, 2012
The Adoration of the Magi (circa 1305) by Giot...

The Adoration of the Magi

 

Matthew begins his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus. I’ll skip the genealogy and go straight to his account of Jesus’s birth.

 

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yetdid not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” (Matthew 1:18-2:20)

 

Most people think that the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem involved the murder of hundreds or thousands of innocents. Remember, though, that Bethlehem was a small village in this time with a likely population of a few hundred. It is doubtful that more than half a dozen children were killed, not enough to make it into any other sources we have for Herod’s rule. Herod was certainly ruthless enough to order such a massacre. He had no trouble killing members of his own family if he thought they threatened his rule. In fact, Herod being an Idumean (or Edomite) and not a Jew, was a foreigner and so was as despised by many Judeans as a Roman governor would have been. If he had heard that there was a potential rival to his throne, even a child, that the Jews might rally around, he would have wasted no time in disposing of that rival.

 

The word Magi usually refers to Zoroastrian priests. In Greco-Roman usage the term Magi had connotations of magicians or sorsorers, exotic figures from distant lands. It is not clear just who the Magi actually were. They may indeed have been Zoroastrians. The references to the Star of Bethlehem suggest that they may have been astrologers. The Babylonians had a reputation for being skilled in astrology and magic so the Magi may have come from Mesopotamia. They may also have been Jewish since they were seeking for a king of the Jews. The fact that they were unfamiliar with the prophets may prove that they were Gentiles. The number of the Magi is not given in the Gospel. The reason that three are usually pictured  is that there were three gifts; gold, frankincense,and myrrh.

 

It is also not clear just what the Star of Bethlehem actually was. There have been several theories presented, but none of them are entirely satisfactory. The star might have been a supernova, perhaps in a nearby galaxy. There is no way to know for certain since any supernova remnant so far away would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to detect. It might also have been a comet. This is rather unlikely. Although a comet would behave much as the star is said to behave, hanging in the sky over a certain location for several nights, comets were universally perceived as being harbingers of disaster in ancient, and not so ancient, times. The most likely explanation is a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. The astronomer Keppler discovered that there was indeed such a conjunction in the year 7 BC. The following year there was another conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. This might have been very impressive to the Magi. It may also be that the Star was a supernatural phenomonem and one that cannot be studied today. Whatever the truth of the matter is, I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas.

 

 

 

Bacteria and Obesity

December 22, 2012
Two mice; the mouse on the left has more fat s...

Guess which mouse has the bacteria inside it.

 

Here is a story that might make you feel better about eating too much at Christmas get togethers. According to a study in China, it isn’t how much we eat or how little we exercise that makes us fat, it is what bacteria we have in our colons. I found the article in the Financial Times through Instapundit.

 

Obesity in human beings could be caused by bacterial infection rather than eating too much, exercising too little or genetics, according to a groundbreaking study that could have profound implications for public health systems, the pharmaceutical industry and food manufacturers.

The discovery in China followed an eight-year search by scientists across the world to explain the link between gut bacteria and obesity.

Researchers in Shanghai identified a human bacteria linked with obesity, fed it to mice and compared their weight gain with rodents without the bacteria. The latter did not become obese despite being fed a high-fat diet and being prevented from exercising.

 

Personally, I think that diet and exercise might have a little to do with obesity. If this study proves to have merit than it might pave the way to more effective weight loss methods. This isn’t the only article I have read indicating that human intestinal bacteria might have a profound impact on our health and clearly a lot more research needs to be done in this field.

 

Here is a sentence in the middle of the article that ought to make anyone think for a minute.

 

Governments around the world are grappling with an obesity pandemic.

 

Do you know how truly weird it is that governments around the world have to deal with obesity. It wasn’t that long ago that the major preocupation of most governments was preventing their citizens from starving. The fact that a large portion of the population of the world may suffer from having too much food is simply unprecedented in human history and represents a triumph of man over nature, if not an entirely unprobematic one.

 

 

 


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