Archive for December, 2015

The Nativity According to Mark

December 22, 2015

The Gospel of Mark does not actually include a narrative of Jesus’s birth. Instead Mark gets right to business with John the Baptist.

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,  as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

(Mark 1:1-8)

Then Jesus makes his first appearance, fully grown and ready to begin His public ministry.

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

(Mark 1:9-15)

English: John the Baptist baptizing Christ

English: John the Baptist baptizing Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mark’s gospel was probably the first gospel written. It is the shortest of the four gospels and seems to have been intended as a sort of FAQ for Christians wanting to know more about the central figure of their faith. Mark doesn’t include a lot of details about Jesus’s life and teachings. He just gives the basic facts about Jesus’s ministry, his miracles and his death on the cross.

The earliest Christians weren’t really interested in the details of Jesus’s birth or His early life. Even His teachings were of secondary importance. For the early Christians, the most important fact about Jesus was that he was crucified, died, and them came back to life, defeating death and sin and redeeming the whole world. Paul, whose letters are some of the earliest Christian writings hardly mentions any details of Jesus’s life. He was surely not ignorant. Both he and the recipients of his letters already knew the information found in the Gospels. For both Paul and the people he wrote to, the most important thing was the death and resurrection. For the earliest Christians Easter, not Christmas, was the most important day of the year. Indeed, the birth of Christ may not have been celebrated by Christians until the third or fourth century.

There is a lot of talk, these days, about the War on Christmas, and I have written posts about the Secular Christmas Grinches who seem determined to ruin Christmas for everyone, or at least strip it of all meaning until it is a generic “Holiday”. As Christians, we should remember the importance of Christmas and should fight against the increasing marginalization of the Judeo-Christian worldview that this nation was founded upon. Still, we should also remember that Christ’s death and resurrection was the reason he came into the world. If Jesus is the reason for Christmas, Good Friday and Easter are the reason for Jesus. We should remember Christ on the cross as well as baby Jesus in the manger.

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The Nativity According to Matthew

December 21, 2015

 

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.”Star-of-Bethlehem

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 sorcerers, 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.

strozzi-adoration-magi-NG582-fm

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.

 

 

 

The Nativity According to Luke

December 20, 2015

Here is what Christmas is all about

 

 

Linus quotes from the Gospel according to Luke. There are two accounts of Jesus’s birth in the New Testament, the account that Luke gives and the account that Matthew gives. Mark ignores the question of Jesus’s birth entirely, preferring to begin with Jesus’s public ministry while John actually begins his account before the nativity and moves from there to Jesus’ career. Here is Luke’s account.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.(Luke 2:1-21)

There is a considerable amount of skepticism regarding the census, both on the dating and the procedure. Most skeptics regard it as extremely improbable that the Romans would make people travel here and there to register in their home towns. As a matter of fact that is just how the Romans conducted their censuses.

Every five years, each male Roman citizen had to register in Rome for the census. In this he had to declare his family, wife, children, slaves and riches. Should he fail to do this, his possessions would be confiscated and he would be sold into slavery.
But registration meant freedom. A master wishing to free his slave needed only to enter him in the censor’s list as a citizen (manumissio censu).
Throughout the entire republican era, registration in the census was the only way that a Roman could ensure that his identity and status as a citizen were recognized. Fathers registered their sons, employers their freedmen.
Primarily the census served to count the number of citizens and to assess the potential military strength and future tax revenue. Most important, the census transformed the city into a political and military community.
But the census performed a highly symbolical function. To the Romans the census made them more than a mere crowd, or barbarian rabble. It made them a populus, a people, capable of collective action.
To the Roman the census was one of the foundation stones of their civilization.

As the Roman Empire expanded and citizenship was given out to other cities in Italy and around the Mediterranean, I would imagine that every Roman citizen had to go to his native city to register. Presumably there were lists of citizens kept in major cities and in Rome. Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen at various times in Acts and you might wonder how he was able to prove it. Well, every Roman citizen had a sort of ID or diploma which would have been issued in his city.

But with the steady extension of the citizenship by individual grants to provincials isolated in peregrine communes, and with the informal settlement of large numbers of Italian immigrants in the provincial territories, a more effective means of registration became necessary. Formal documentation of the grant of citizenship to provincial soldiery appears first in 89 B.C., in the shape of a bronze tablet recording the decree of a proconsul enfranchising a unit of Spanish cavalrymen in the Social War, who are all named in a general list. Presumably each soldier received a copy. The cities of persons of higher status enfranchised by Octavian in c. 40 B.C. received a copy of a decree detailing all the privileges of their new status, while his auxiliary veterans could acquire copies of the enabling edict that enfranchised them. But it is only with the regularization of the grant of citizenship to the all time-expired auxiliaries by Claudius that a standardized document appears. This is the small bronze diptych known as the diploma civitatis, containing a brief and uniform formula conferring the Roman citizenship on the holder and his descendants, who is indicated by his name and military unit. These documents were not normally used for civilians, who received instead a copy in libellus form of the brief imperial warrant authorizing the registration of their enfranchisement in the archives at Rome.

Diplomata and libelli provided for new citizens. For the mass of the citizenry, for whom censorial registration at five-yearly intervals was an inefficient instrument, adequate provision was finally made by the creation of an official system of compulsory birth registration under the social legislation of Augustus (A.D. 4)… The Roman citizen was required to register the birth of his children within thirty days before a Roman official, and he received a wooden diptych recording the declaration, which acted as a certificate of citizenship for the child for the rest of his life. Like the military diplomata this contained the names of seven witnesses, and provided a presumptive proof of citizen status… Similarly the enfranchisement of freedmen, which depended upon a formal act, was recorded in a documentary tabella manumissionis. Citizens of diverse origins thus came to have some form of documentary evidence of their status.

Presumably Paul registered at Tarsus while he lived there. To get back to the census, obviously, Joseph wasn’t a Roman citizen and Judea was under the rule of Herod, not the Romans. The census could have been a small time affair, the mention of Caesar Augustus being either an exaggeration or a long-standing policy of Augustus to encourage the provinces to conduct censuses, but conducted according to Roman norms, with every resident registering in his home town. You must not imagine, however, large crowds of people traveling to and fro. Remember that in this time most people would have lived their whole lives in the same village. Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have been very much an exception. The only thing really odd about this account was his taking Mary with him. There would have been no need for her to travel. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much.

 

By the Book

December 19, 2015

In recent years there has been a fierce debate over whether Islam is inherently more violent than other religions and whether the perpetrators of such atrocities as the attack on 9/11 and the shootings at Paris and San Bernardino are extremists who have distorted the peaceful teachings of Islam or devout Muslims who are obeying the precepts of their god and prophet. I lean very heavily towards the idea that Islam is an evil and violent ideology, responsible for more misery and destruction than such comparable ideologies as Nazism and Communism. I shouldn’t have to add that I do not believe that all, or even most, Muslims are evil and violent. There is about the same proportion of good and evil among individual Muslims that there is among any population. The problem is not that individual Muslims are worse than other people. They are not. The problem is that they follow a religion which encourages violence and Islamic supremacy.

This could perhaps be illustrated by this article I read from something called the TSEC Network, which I found courtesy of Jihad Watch.

Are Muslims who live in Canada living in a state of war with their host country?  Should they see other Canadians as the enemy?

The Ottawa Public Library (St. Laurent Branch) is currently holding books by Mohamed el-Ghazali, one of the most extreme of Islamcist writers who preaches violence and hate towards non-Muslims and Muslims who do not live according to his extremist view of Islam.

One of the books has the title “One Hundred Questions about Islam.”  The book has several insights such as:

  1.  If you are a Muslim living in a non-Muslim country, then you are in a state of war against your host country.
  2.  If you are a Muslim living in a non-Muslim country, then you are living with the enemy.
  3.  Only a caliphate is an acceptable form of government.
  4.  If you kill the takfir (non-Muslim/apostate) then you will go to paradise.
  5.  Women cannot work.  Nor can they leave the home without permission.
  6.  You must kill those Muslims who leave the faith.
  7.  Christians have no rights and cannot be allowed to construct churches etc.

Of note, a search of books on Islam at the St. Laurent branch revealed more violent texts including others by el-Ghazali.  There were no books there that expressed a historical view of Islam nor any books on the modernization of Islam.

It is not known if this book was purchased by the Ottawa Public Library or if it was donated by an individual or a group.  An informal conversation with a staff member suggested that books that were donated were subjected to a specific process and were approved for use by staff.

Mohamed el-Ghazali is the author of more than 90 books.  He became best known in the press for his public defense of the assassins of Dr. Farg Fouda.  Dr Fouda was a secularist who spoke out against Islamacist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood and was killed because of this.  El-Ghazali stated at trial that anyone who opposed the full imposition of Islamic law was an apostate and should be killed either by the government or by devout individuals.

El-Ghazali, who died in 1996, was a well respected author in Islamicist circles such as the Muslim Brotherhood.  He was a life long friend to the current senior cleric of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusef Qaradawi.

I have no doubt at all that the vast majority of Muslims in Canada and America do not subscribe to El-Ghazali’s views. Indeed, I suspect that many of them emigrated to North America to get away from people like El-Ghazali or at least from the consequences that his viewpoints have on any society in which they are widely adopted. The problem is Islam is that it doesn’t matter what they think. El-Ghazali’s views are in accordance with Islamic law. As far as Islamic law and doctrine are concerned, El-Ghazali is in the right, and the moderate Muslims of North America are in the wrong, even if they happen to be a majority. The tenets of Islam, like the tenets of every other major religion, are not based on democratic votes or opinion polls, but on what the adherents of that religion believe to be divine revelation of one sort or another.

As it happens, Islamic law does not encourage Muslims to live in countries not ruled my Muslims. The ideal seems to be that Muslims should either be the majority or a ruling minority. Islamic law and tradition does divide the world between Dar al-Islam, the House of Islam or Submission, and Dar al-Harb, the House of War. This does not mean that every Muslim should be at war with the non-Muslims or that there should be a state of perpetual war between Muslim and non-Muslim states. It does suggest a sort of with us or against us mentality that perhaps can be traced back to the origins of Islam and the period of time in which the Law was codified.

In many ways, the advent of Islam was a beneficial and civilizing influence on the people of the Arabian peninsula. Among other things, Islam taught the people to look beyond the narrow interests of tribe and clan and work for the welfare of the entire Islamic community or Ummah. Unfortunately, Islam did not, like Christianity under the influence of the Greeks, come to consider the entire human race as one community. Instead, Islam just pushed the boundaries of us and them out to include the Ummah, and no one outside the Ummah. To this day, there is still a strong feeling among Muslims that they are the best people, blessed by God.

If that is the case, then it follows that relations with those outside the Ummah, however friendly and profitable, must be viewed with a degree of wariness. They are potential enemies. Living in a state ruled by outsiders must then be rather like living in an enemy camp in time of war, at best opportunistic and at worst treasonous. It also follows that leaving the Islamic faith, apostasy, is akin to switching sides in a time of war, or again treason. If soldier deserts to fight for the enemy, it is very likely he will be executed. An Apostate is a traitor to God and so deserves execution.

It is important to stress again, that few Muslims in North America, and perhaps not that many in other parts of the world, share the views expressed by such “extremists”. They are simply following the religion of their fathers without much thought, just as many modern Christians do not give much thought to the relationship between God and man in Christ’s nature or the relationship of faith and works. In fact, many Muslims may not know very much about the nature of their faith. Only about twenty percent of Muslims speak Arabic as a native language, and given that the Koran is written in rather an obscure and archaic dialect of Arabic, few can understand the verses they have memorized by rote without some sort of commentary. This is why hostility and discrimination against Muslims, even in the wake of such horrors as the recent attacks may not be a good idea. Hatred will only encourage the us against them attitude and confirm the idea that non-Muslims are infidel and the enemy. Instead, perhaps we should speak candidly and without hatred or malice about our beliefs on the errors of their system and try to show them that the way of Christ is a better way.

The Myths Really Happened

December 18, 2015

One of the nice things about reading e-books on a Kindle is that a great many books are available either for free or for a very low price because they are older books whose authors are long dead and the copyrights have expired. These low-priced or free books are some of the greatest classics of literature and naturally I have been interested in reading them, particularly the classical Greek and Roman mythological epic such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid. Now I have recently come across a pair of news stories that suggest that the backgrounds of these epic poems may not have come entirely from the minds of the writers, that there may be a kernel of fact behind the fiction.

First, there is this interesting article from the Guardian on some recent research about the mysterious Etruscans who lived and ruled in Italy before the rise of Rome. The Romans themselves were not Etruscans but the Etruscans heavily influenced Roman culture. Unfortunately, the written language of the Etruscans remains undeciphered, so little is known of them, except what the Greeks and Romans have written about them.

They gave us the word “person” and invented a symbol of iron rule later adopted by the fascists. Some even argue it was they who really moulded Roman civilisation.

Yet the Etruscans, whose descendants today live in central Italy, have long been among the great enigmas of antiquity. Their language, which has never properly been deciphered, was unlike any other in classical Italy. Their origins have been hotly debated by scholars for centuries.

Genetic research made public at the weekend appears to put the matter beyond doubt, however. It shows the Etruscans came from the area which is now Turkey – and that the nearest genetic relatives of many of today’s Tuscans and Umbrians are to be found, not in Italy, but around Izmir.

The European Human Genetic Conference in Nice was told on Saturday the results of a study carried out in three parts of Tuscany: the Casentino valley, and two towns, Volterra and Murlo, where important finds have been made of Etruscan remains. In each area, researchers took DNA samples from men with surnames unique to the district and whose families had lived there for at least three generations.

They then compared their Y chromosomes, which are passed from father to son, with those of other groups in Italy, the Balkans, modern-day Turkey and the Greek island of Lemnos, which linguistic evidence suggests could have links to the Etruscans.

The latest findings confirm what was said about the matter almost 2,500 years ago, by the Greek historian Herodotus. The first traces of Etruscan civilisation in Italy date from about 1200 BC.

About seven and a half centuries later, Herodotus wrote that after the Lydians had undergone a period of severe deprivation in western Anatolia, “their king divided the people into two groups, and made them draw lots, so that the one group should remain and the other leave the country; he himself was to be the head of those who drew the lot to remain there, and his son, whose name was Tyrrhenus, of those who departed”.

But the latest conclusions may add weight to a rival, apparently more fanciful, theory that links their name to Troy, the “city of towers” and a part of the Lydian empire. The most likely date for the fall of Troy, as described by Homer, is between 1250 and 1200 BC.

Virgil’s Aeneid tells the story of a Trojan prince named Aeneas who fled with his family when the Greeks destroyed Troy. Aeneas led his followers around the Mediterranean until they settled at last in Italy where after many adventures he established a kingdom. His descendants were Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome. Virgil wrote the Aeneid in the hope of creating a national epic for the Romans in the same way that Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were for the Greeks, and he consciously inserted what might be considered political propaganda justifying the leadership of Rome over the known world, and also the role of his patron Augustus Caesar as the first Emperor of the Roman Empire. This does not mean that Virgil simply invented the plot of the Aeneid. Instead, it seems that he made use of Roman legends concerning the Trojan origins of the Roman people that had been told for generations by combining them into a more unified and coherent story.

aeneasmap

The Romans were not themselves Etruscans. They were clearly natives of Italy, closely related in language and culture to many other people living in south and central Italy. The Etruscans clearly influenced the development of Roman culture and it is likely that they brought the alphabet to Italy, as well as many other elements of civilization. If the recent findings about the origins of the Etruscans from Lydia in Asia Minor, the actual location of Troy, then it is possible that the legends that Virgil drew upon to create the Aeneid are a distant memory of a real migration from Asia Minor to Italy, perhaps by refugees fleeing war and the destruction of their homeland.

But what about Homer? Unlike Virgil who lived at around the time of Christ and so is well known to history, Homer lived at a time when Greece was emerging from a dark age. Not much is known about Homer, even whether a poet by that name ever really existed. Homer’s Iliad tells the story of an dispute between Achilles and the other leaders of the Greeks during the Trojan War and of Achilles’s personal feud with the Trojan prince Hector. The Odyssey tells the story of the Greek Odysseus’s trials as he sails home after the war. It wouldn’t seem likely that these fanciful tales are based on real, historical persons, yet, there really was a Troy, or at any rate a city at the legendary location of Troy. This city was burned down several times and rebuilt, but it is not clear whether the Greek stories of the Trojan War are a memory of an actual siege of the city. Still, there is this story I read in the Independent.

The Odyssey is one of the great works of ancient Western literature, written eight centuries before the birth of Christ and four centuries after the fall of Troy. Generations of classicists have pored over the many lines of Homer’s epic description of the long journey taken by the hero Odysseus to his home island of Ithaca. Now two scholars have found evidence to support the idea that one line, in the poem’s 20th book, refers to a total solar eclipse that occurred on 16 April 1178 BC – the day when Odysseus returned home to kill his wife’s suitors. If true, this would date the fall of Troy itself to precisely 1188 BC.

The idea that The Odyssey refers to a total solar eclipse, when the Moon blocks out the Sun completely, is not new. It was first suggested by ancient scholars, but it was only in the 1920s that astronomers were able to calculate that such an eclipse over Greece around that time could only have taken place on 16 April 1178 BC.

 

Instead of looking at when a solar eclipse occurred in history, as other astronomers had done, they investigated the timing of a new moon, the simultaneous appearance of two stellar constellations in the evening sky, and appearances of the planets Mercury and Venus. All four phenomena are mentioned in The Odyssey which gave Constantino Baikouzis of the Observatorio Astronomico de La Plata in Argentina, and Professor Marcelo Magnasco, of the Rockefeller University in New York, another way of checking the date when Odysseus is supposed to have returned to his home on Ithaca to kill his wife’s suitors.

They calculated the pattern in which these four events occurred, from the references mentioned in The Odyssey, and compared them against patterns gleaned from 135 years of astronomical data – nearly 5,000 days. The result was they found just one date that could have been the fateful day. It was the same 16 April 1178BC that was known to have been a total solar eclipse. “What are the chances of having two different ways of dating the text and both agreeing on the same date? We calculated the chances of these two dates agreeing by chance alone is something like one in 50,000,” Professor Magnasco said.

“Not only is this corroborative evidence that this date might be something important but, if we take it as a given that the death of the suitors happened on this particular eclipse date, then everything else in The Odyssey happens exactly as is described.”

“Under the very large assumption that there was an Odysseus, there were suitors that got massacred, that it indeed took 10 years for Odysseus to get back … yes, in that case the fall of Troy would have happened 10 years before the death of the suitors, thus in 1188BC. The current dating of the destruction layer of Troy VIIa is around 1190 plus/minus a few years.”

Obviously the more fantastic elements of Homer’s tales such the cyclops or the miraculous involvement of the gods, but it is altogether possible that the legends of the Trojan War are derived from a real war and the Iliad from an actual incident in that war. The Odyssey may be a dim memory of actual troubles faced by men returning from this war to find matters at home not as they might wish. Who can tell?

OK, this part was probably made up.

OK, this part was probably made up.

Bless This Abortion Clinic

December 15, 2015

I wish that I could say that this news story from Breitbart.com surprised me, but the liberal, mainline protestant churches have drifted so far from anything that might be considered traditional Christian teachings that nothing representatives of the more liberal denominations is truly surprising.

Some ordained ministers are throwing their support behind abortion providers. Last week, for example, clergy for Episcopal and Methodist churches were among religious leaders who gathered in Cleveland to bless an abortion clinic.
“I’m here today standing alongside my fellow clergymen and clergywomen to say: thank God for abortion providers,” said Rev. Harry Knox, president and CEO of Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) which supports abortion rights and what it refers to as “abortion care.”

Knox, who is in a same-sex marriage, was the founding director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program, the first program director at Freedom to Marry, and executive director of Georgia Equality.

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, blessed the abortion clinic, saying, “Bless this building. May its walls stand strong against the onslaught of shame thrown at it. May it be a beacon of hope for those who need its services.”

The blessing event outside the Preterm abortion clinic was arranged by Rev. Laura Young, a United Methodist minister who is executive director of RCRC’s Ohio chapter, reports theColumbus Dispatch. Young calls herself a “progressive theological thinker and a feminist,” and says her goals include urging more clergy members to advocate for organizations that provide abortions and contraception.

At the abortion clinic, clergy members held up signs that read, “Pro-Faith, Pro-Family, Pro-Choice.”

Chrisse France, executive director of Preterm said, “At a time when abortion care providers are under attack, we are so thankful to be surrounded by the faith community as they share their powerful voices in saying no to the shame and stigma.”

I can understand praying for the safety of the people who work in abortion clinics considering that there is a lunatic fringe that does not quite understand the concept of being pro-life, but how can anyone who considers themselves a Christian possibly ask God to bless a an institution that exists for the sole purpose of murdering innocent human beings? Isn’t this more than a little like clergy blessing a Nazi concentration camp? Ought they not rather pray that the people in the abortion clinic see the error of their way and repent of the evil they are doing? Why shouldn’t abortion providers feel shame and stigma? They are doing something truly detestable. Even if one takes the position that abortion is a sad necessity because of adverse conditions, surely it is blasphemous to ask the Lord of Life to bless an abortion clinic. Executions may also be necessary, but no priest or minister would bless a gallows or electric chair.

It comes as no surprise that one of the clergymen involved in this event is in a same-sex marriage. I have long held the position that any church or denomination that permits or endorses same-sex marriage is in a state of apostasy and cannot be considered to be Christian. It is not so much that the issue of same-sex marriage is important in itself, although it is, or that the issue alone determines whether a church is truly Christian, it does not, but rather, I believe that if a church rejects Biblical Christian teachings on marriage and sexuality, they are very likely to reject other Biblical Christian teachings such as the death and resurrection of the Son of God, or the supreme value of human life and dignity.

These Episcopal and Methodist clergy men and women seem to have rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ and replaced it with the gospel of leftism. They have ceased to follow the standards of Christ in favor the standards of the world and have decided to bow down to the golden calf of political correctness. They have chosen to worship Baal and to sacrifice infants in the fire rather than the Living God. May God have mercy on them for leading their flocks astray. It would be better for them to have had millstones hung around their necks.

Handwritten King James Bible Proves the Bible Not Inspired

December 7, 2015

That is the claim made by this article from the website addicting info. Judging from the content I’ve seen, addicting info seems to be the sort of website with a pronounced leftwing bias that thrives on sensationalistic headlines, so it is probably a waste of my time to pay much attention to any article there, but this particular article is interesting.

The earliest known version of The King James Bible, perhaps one of the most influential and widely read books in history, has been discovered mislabeled inside an archive at the University of Cambridge. The find is being called one of the most significant revelations in decades. It shows that writing is a process of revising, cutting, and then more rewriting. The Bible is no different in this regard, even though some conservative Christians claim it is the divine word of God himself. Perhaps God, then, is a revisionist. This find certainly seems to suggest that.

The notebook containing the draft was found by American scholar, Jeffrey Alan Miller, an assistant professor of English at Montclair State University in New Jersey, who announced his research in an article in The Times Literary Supplement. The New York Times didn’t take long to pick up the story. They ran an article about it, HERE. Mr. Miller was researching an essay about Samuel Ward, one of the King James translators, and was hoping to find an unknown letter at the archives. While you can say he certainly accomplished that end, he definitely wasn’t expecting to find the earliest draft of the King James Bible — which is now giving new insights into how the Bible was constructed

He first came across the plain notebook not knowing what it was — it was incorrectly labeled. That’s why no one has found it until now. It had been cataloged in the 1980s as a “verse-by-verse” Biblical commentary with “Greek word studies, and some Hebrew notes.” When he tried in vain to figure out which passages of the Bible the commentary was referring to, he realized that it was no commentary at all — it was an early draft of part of the King James Version of the Bible.

Ward’s draft seems to indicate the people were assigned individual sections of the Bible and then worked on them almost entirely by themselves — a massive undertaking with little guesswork. You would think this would cause people to become more error prone. In fact, quite hilariously, Professor Miller noticed that the draft suggests that Ward was picking up the slack for another translator. This really shows how human the entire job was, according to him.

“Some of them, being typical academics, either fell down on the job or just decided not to do it. It really testifies to the human element of this kind of great undertaking.”

This is sure to piss off a lot of religious conservatives who claim that the Bible is the “actual word of God.” While this finding certainly doesn’t disprove God, it does show that the translators of the Bible didn’t get a finalized product the first go around — it wasn’t a walk in the park with an angel over their shoulder telling them what to write. It took many different individuals, working separately — and they often suffered from man-made struggles, like meeting deadlines. You know, now that we think of it, doesn’t sound that much different from the writers of today’s workforce.

To begin with, no one believes that the King James Version of the Bible is anything but a translation made by fallible men, with the exception of a small fringe of people. The original manuscripts of the Bible in Hebrew and Greek were inspired but the copies and translations were not. We do not have these original manuscripts. They were lost centuries ago. We do have copies of the original manuscripts. Because these copies were made by fallible men, they contain errors, such as words out of place, words misspelled or ungrammatical sentences, variant wordings etc. The scholars who translate the Bible into modern languages take great pains to find the oldest copies available and compare the many copies in order to determine the precise wording of the original manuscripts. This is difficult but not impossible, since the sort of errors made by copyists are well known and can be analysed. It is no great surprise that the King James translators had trouble with their work, especially considering the difficulty of translation from a language no longer spoken from a quite different culture.

KJV

The word “inspiration” is taken from the Latin ” inspiratio”, literally “breathed in”, which is a translation of the Greek word θεοπνευστος (theopneustos) meaning God breathed. The idea behind the word inspiration is that God breathed His word into the Biblical writers, or as it is written in 2 Timothy 3:16:

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness

There is a range of opinions of just what inspired or God breathed actually means, particularly among Protestants. At the more conservative or literalist end of the spectrum is the Dictation Theory, which is that God dictated the contents of the biblical manuscripts word for word with the human authors acting as recorders or stenographers. This is not a theory which has much appeal. The books of the Bible are written in different styles and genres. If every word were dictated by a single intelligence then you might expect a greater uniformity of style. Verbal dictation is really more of an Islamic idea, with the angel Gabriel dictating every word of the Koran to Mohammed, than a Christian one.

Verbal plenary inspiration is the view that the words written in the Bible are those of the human authors, with their various cultural backgrounds, personalities, and literary styles, but that God had arranged matters so that these authors would be His tools and their words would be His words. In other words, they may have chosen the words to write, but their choices had be foreseen and predestined to be the ones God wanted to use. This isn’t really very far from actual dictation, but it does a better job of explaining the different writing styles of the Bible.

Dynamic inspiration gives more credit to the human writers. The words of the Bible were theirs but the thoughts and basic ideas are inspired. So, when the Apostle Paul wrote one of his letters, the Holy Spirit gave him the theological ideas but the but the words used were his own.

The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches also believe that the Bible was inspired, though not dictated word for word, however, they also believe in the continuing work of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in sacred traditions and the teaching authority of the Church. Scripture is important to Catholicism and Orthodoxy as the primary source of doctrine, but not the only source as it does in Protestantism with its solo scriptura doctrine.

More liberal Christians tend to downplay the role of inspiration in the writing of scripture, tending to view the Bible as a primarily, if not entirely, human creation. They may reject the role of scripture entirely or attempt to separate out the truly divine elements from the human elements derived from the culture and background. This is a convenient approach for those who would like to support the latest progressive, politically correct causes, like gay marriage, but don’t want to be bothered by inconvenient passages in scripture.

So, despite what the writer might believe, the discovery of an early draft of the King James Bible with corrections does not, in the least, show that the Bible is not the Word of God. He is attacking an idea that no one actually holds, which is the definition of a strawman argument.

If I only had a brain.

If I only had a brain.

 

It seems to me that it would be better to learn something about a religion or ideology because trying to portray its adherents as being ignorant, rather than show one’s own ignorance about the matter.

The Story of Hanukah

December 6, 2015

Hanukkah begins at sunset today, so I thought I would write a little about this holiday. Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. It is an eight day celebration which lasts from the twenty-fifth day on Kislev to the second day of Tevet. Since the Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar, the days float around from November to December in the Gregorian calendar. This year the days of Hanukkah are celebrated December 6 to 14.

English: Hanukkah menorah, known also as Hanuk...

Hanukkah was not a major holiday in the Jewish calendar, unlike Passover or the High Holy Days. The festival has increased in importance among North American Jews because of its proximity to Christmas. There is even a tendency among Gentiles to regard Hanukkah as some sort of Jewish Christmas. This is unfortunate, since the backgrounds of the two holidays are quite different. The story of Hanukkah is one of the Jewish people fighting for their freedom to worship God in their own way. I think this story is inspiring and worth learning, both for Jews and Gentiles.

The history goes back to the time of Alexander the Great. He conquered the Persian Empire in one of the most remarkable military campaigns in history. Unfortunately, when he died in 323 BC, he left no provision for any successors and so his generals fought among themselves and eventually Alexander’s empire was divided among them. One of these successors was named Seleucus and he gained control of what is now Iran and Iraq. His kingdom is known to historians as the Seleucid Empire. This time is known as the Hellenistic Era.

Around 200 BC the Seleucids defeated the Egyptians and gained the territories of modern Syria and Israel. During this time the Jewish religion was tolerated and respected by the Ptolemies of Egypt. During this time, also, the Greek language and culture spread far and wide among the conquered peoples. Greek culture had become “cool” and everybody wanted to be a part of it. People who adopted Greek culture could be said to be “Hellenized” from Hellene, the Greek word for Greek. This caused no little consternation among the more traditional Jews. They were afraid that in the rush to embrace Greek culture, many Jews would fall into the worship of the Greek gods and so to idolatry. So, to some extent, the events which followed were as much a civil war as a war between the Jews and the Seleucids.

Antiochus IV

In the year 175, Antiochus IV Epiphanes ascended the throne of the Seleucids. Unlike previous Hellenistic rulers he seemed to believe himself a god and was eager that everyone in his realm pay divine honors to the Greek gods. For most of the people in the Empire this was no great burden as a few more gods didn’t matter all that much. For all but the most Hellenized Jews, this was an impossible demand. There was only one God. When fighting broke out between Hellenized and traditional Jews, Antiochus sided with the Hellenized Jews and in 167 sent an army to capture Jerusalem and compel the worship of the Greek gods. A statue of Zeus was placed on the altar of the Temple and the Jewish religion was banned.

This sparked a rebellion and a guerrilla war which was led by a priest named Matthias and his five sons. The most prominent of these was Judas Maccabeus. Antiochus IV had many other problems, especially with the Persians to the east and the rising power of Rome to the west and could never spare the forces necessary to crush the revolt. By 165, the Maccabees were able to retake Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple of the defilement of the pagans.

According to legend, there was only enough oil to light the Menorah for one day, and yet miraculously, they were able to keep it lit for eight days, until more oil could be procured. These eight days became known as the Festival of Lights and to commemorate this victory and miracle, a nine branched menorah is lit. A more prosaic explanation for the origins of this holiday is that the first Hanukkah was a belated celebration of Sukkot. Whatever the truth of the matter might be, I wish everyone a Happy Hanukkah.

 

More On Your Republican Uncle

December 4, 2015

Something occurred to me while I was thinking about that silly website put out by the Democratic National Committee. They give out handy scripts for various Republican presidential candidates and five issues that someone might argue about with their Republican uncle. These issues are the ACA (Obamacare), climate, economy, immigrants and refugees, and equality. This last one dealing with voter ID and gay marriage. I didn’t think about it at first, but notice anything missing from this short list of subjects? There is nothing said about defense or foreign policy.

There is not much good that can be said for the President’s foreign policy, but his actions in fighting our enemies can perhaps be defended, maybe with an imaginary conversation like this.

smilies-04

That Barack Obama is a weakling. He doesn’t know how to keep us safe from the terrorists.

 

smilies-03Actually, Barack Obama has launched more attacks with drones than Bush. He has been systematically killing leaders of terrorist organizations including Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for 9/11.

This is actually true and Obama’s drone war is probably the only thing he is doing that I thoroughly approved of. Of course killing terrorists with drones is not enough by itself. It is like trying to kill the hydra one head at a time.  It would be better if it were followed up by actual smart diplomacy and resolute leadership, two qualities Obama completely lacks, but I’ll give him credit where it is warranted.

So why wasn’t there a section like this? It may be that when the website was first put together foreign policy and defense did not seem to be important issues, but in the wake of the Paris attacks and other events, surely something could be added. Why isn’t more said about Obama’s war efforts in the media? They go out of their way to praise him and cover for his mistakes on every other issue. Not much ever seems to be said about his drone war, even when conservatives condemn Obama for not fighting terrorism. I wouldn’t expect to see the president of a civilized nation gloat about how many people have been killed during his watch, but surely there is something they could say. And, have the Democratic candidates, Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, said anything about continuing or extending Obama’s anti-terrorist policies.

Part of this reticence might be because of the need for secrecy in matters of national security. It wouldn’t be a good idea to let the targets of these drone attacks to know too much about the drone’s capabilities and weaknesses. It may be useful for there to be some uncertainty whether a given target had been killed or is in hiding.

I think, though, that if the purpose of Your Republican Uncle is not really to teach the reader to win arguments with any Republican relatives but to help mobilize and energize the base for upcoming elections, than the topics selected must be those which the Democratic base, particularly the young, educated progressive must care the most about. This base may not be very concerned about the War on Terror and on foreign policy generally. At best, such concerns are a distraction from the more important project of fundamentally transforming this racist, intolerant, and just plain mean country into something better. At worst, they may believe that a oppressive, flawed country like the United States has no business leading the world in any sort of fight against terrorism, since we ourselves have bloody hands and are responsible for much of the evil in the world, including Islamic terrorism, which is, after all, only a response to US aggression in the Middle East and our support for the apartheid state Israel. They perhaps are not very concerned with protecting America and the West because the West is not worth fighting for. Our values are not superior to the terrorists and are likely even worse.

The problem with President Obama is not that he doesn’t particularly like the country he rules. The problem is that there are millions of voters willing to elect a man who shows a disdain for his country twice because they agree with him. If Obama has not been entirely successful in changing America, than America doesn’t deserve a man like Obama. How long can a nation survive if a large number of its population do not think it is worth preserving? What proportion of a nation’s population can be apathetic or even hostile to its ideals before the nation loses the will to live? Perhaps we are going to find out.

 


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