Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Drop Out Jeb

January 19, 2016

That is the advice Glenn Reynolds gave to Jeb Bush in his column in USA Today last week.

Jeb Bush’s campaign is going nowhere, and that’s bad news for Jeb, but it’s good news for America. Now he just needs to perform one final service by dropping out. As a first step, he could follow Rand Paul out the door and skip Thursday night’s debate.

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote in these pages that Jeb shouldn’t run.

I wrote: “There’s nothing really wrong with Jeb Bush. By all accounts he was a good governor in Florida. He seems like a nice guy. And I have no doubt that he’d make a better president than, say, Barack Obama, though at this point in Obama’s term that’s setting the bar pretty low. Even the National Journal, which called Obama’s past year ‘pretty awful,’ might agree.”

I continued: “But nice guy or not, he’s old blood. Leaving aside the matter of the Bush name — though neither his 2016 opponents nor his 2016 supporters will — he last ran for political office back in 2002. He’s fresh only insofar as he’s George W. Bush’syounger brother. Meanwhile, the GOP has a lot of actual fresh blood out there.”

Since then, Jeb’s campaign has never really gotten off the ground. Despite raising vast sums of money — and enriching various consultants in the process — Jeb hasn’t had a message that resonates with the American people. He has come across as entitled, expecting the nomination to just be handed to him because of his last name (Who does he think he is? Hillary?) and unwilling to make the sale.

I don’t know why Jeb Bush decided to run for the presidency this year. It has been more than a decade since his last political campaign and he is obviously out of practice and out of touch. I have never heard or read of anyone who is actually excited about the idea of Jeb Bush being the next president, except perhaps for a few big donors that make up what is called the Republican establishment. Bush himself doesn’t seem to know just why he is running.

But it is the last four paragraphs of Glenn Reynold’s column that I think are worth remembering.

 

But there’s another bright spot. Jeb’s trump card was supposed to be the money. He raised a lot of money, and he has spent a lot of money. But it didn’t help. And that undercuts all the money-in-politics talk we’ve been hearing for years.

Concerns about the impact of money on politics assume that if you buy enough ads, you can elect anybody. If that were true, Jeb would be the front-runner. Instead, he’s running way behind other candidates who, in different ways, have done a better job of addressing voters’ concerns.

It turns out that addressing voters’ concerns is more important than slick TV spots. And that means the only campaign finance “reform” we need is for candidates (and donors) to quit tossing money at consultants and instead to speak to the American people about what the American people care about.

If nothing else comes from Jeb’s candidacy, that’s a valuable lesson indeed. Let’s hope that we learn it.

 

If anyone wants to know the reason that Donald Trump is currently the front runner in the Republican while Bernie Sanders is running a remarkably successful insurgent campaign against Hilary Clinton, they need to understand that Trump and Sanders are, in different ways with different audiences addressing real concerns that many Americans really have about the future of their country in a way that more mainstream candidates have not been able to match. I get the impression that the members of our political establishment have begun to believe that they rule by some divine right rather than at the sufferance of the people. I don’t have much liking for Donald Trump and still less for Bernie Sanders, but they are providing a badly needed shakeup in both parties.

 

Muslims Beaten Mosques Burned

January 10, 2016

That is the claim made by a recent e-mail I received from Moveon.org.

Dear MoveOn member,

Last week, a Muslim store owner in New York was beaten by a man yelling, “I kill Muslims!” A pig’s head was left outside a Muslim community center in Philadelphia. And in California, a mosque was set on fire while people prayed inside, and a woman threw hot coffee on Muslims praying in a park.1

And that’s just a partial list of the hate crimes directed at Muslims—and those mistaken to be Muslim because of the color of their skin—sweeping the country.

The only way to stop it is for all of us who reject hate to speak out. Loudly.

That’s why we’re helping jumpstart a nationwide campaign called “Hate Has No Business Here.” We’re organizing small-business owners, community centers, libraries, schools, town halls, places of worship, and others to stand up against Islamophobia.

Will you chip in $3 and help stand up against anti-Muslim hate crimes?

Yes, I’ll chip in.

The wave of Islamophobia since the Paris attacks is terrifying, and the FBI was reporting a disturbing rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes even before Paris.

And with Republican presidential candidates whipping up fear, things could get out of control fast.

That’s why we were so inspired by a couple of small-business owners in Minnesota who launched a nationwide campaign with a simple gesture. They put a sign in their window saying, “Hate has no business here.”

Now we’re teaming up with them and the Main Street Alliance to get these signs posted in businesses all over America.

Your donations will allow us to distribute thousands of posters—and expand the campaign to public spaces across America. We’ll collect stories and photos and drive media coverage to push back against the stories of hate and violence.

Will you chip in $3—and help stand up against anti-Muslim hate crimes?

Click here to chip in.

In the wake of our “We Are Better Than This” ad campaign in The New York Times, we’ve all been looking for more positive steps we could take, together, to turn the tide against hate and religious, racial, or other profiling. “Hate has no business here” is right in that spirit.

Thanks for all you do.

Anna, Erica, Robert, Jo, and the rest of the team

There are many among the progressive left who have a heavy emotional investment in the idea that the American people are racist, intolerant, ignorant rednecks who have to be restrained from going on a murderous frenzy against the Muslims. I suppose this gives them a pleasant feeling of superiority over their countrymen.

The fact is, despite a supposed surge in hate crimes against the Muslims, Jews are far more likely to be the victim of hate crimes than Muslims. It’s not even close. According to the article at snopes.com I linked to:

Hate crimes of all types are, thankfully, fairly rare. And it is true that hate crimes against Jews outnumber the number of hate crimes perpetrated against Muslims. The FBI reported that in 2014, there were 609incidents of hate crimes against Jews and 154 against Muslims.

Case closed? Not quite. This could, after all, be an example of lazy reporting. Sure, the raw number of hate crimes against Jews is higher, but national crime statistics are typically reported as a rate: number of crimes per 100,000 population.

Although estimates of the Jewish population in the U.S. were fairly stable across various websites, estimates of the Muslim population varied dramatically – anywhere from 2.1 million to 6.7 million. The Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study seemed to offer the most reliable and objective statistics on religious affiliation in the United States.

According to the Pew study, Jews and Muslims both represent fairly small proportions of the U.S. population, coming in at 1.9% and 0.9% of the U.S. population as a whole. With a total U.S. population of 318.9 million as of 2014, there are approximately 6.1 million Jews and 2.9 million Muslims in America.

Easy math tells us that although there are roughly twice as many Jews in the U.S. than there are Muslims, hate crimes against Jews occur four times as often. Expressed as more official rates per 100,000 population, Jews suffer from hate crime incidents at a rate of 10.05 incidents per 100,000 population while the Muslim rate is roughly half as much, at 5.37 incidents per 100,000 population.

Meanwhile in Europe, there has been a significant rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes over the past few years, with the rapidly increasing Muslim immigrant population largely responsible. Added to that the fact that there is no place in the majority-Muslim Middle East, outside of Israel, where a Jew can expect to live in peace, and it begins to seem as if the Muslims are far more often the persecutor than the persecuted.

These facts do not excuse hate crimes against Muslims, but they do shatter the narrative of the poor, persecuted Muslims suffering at the hands of the bigoted, Islamophobic Americans. When you consider the number of terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies committed by Muslims over the past decades, American people have shown a remarkable degree of patience and tolerance. If some Christian terrorist organization had been committing attacks like 9/11 in any Middle Eastern country, by now there would not be a Christian alive throughout the entire Middle East. Even now, Christians in the Middle East are in serious danger of extermination for the heinous crime of existing.

As that article points out, hate crimes are rather rare in present day America. Hate crimes make the news precisely because they are something out of the ordinary. If America was really the nation steeped in bigotry that Move0n.org imagines us to be, hate crimes would be a daily occurence, hardly worth mentioning in the news. In fact, in many ways the United States is among the most tolerant nations and Western nations generally are more tolerant than non-Westerners. Yes, we do have a history which includes slavery, segregation, imperialism, etc, but these sort of things are the norm in human history. We are the exception in that we decided such things are wrong and should be stopped. If Moveon.org is concerned with the ill-treatment of religious minorities, their efforts would be better focused in places like the Middle East.

 

Mein Kampf in Germany

January 3, 2016

Hitler’s best-selling book Mein Kampf, or My Struggle, will soon be published in Germany for the first time since the end of World War II. After Hitler’s death at the end of that war, his estate, including the German copyright to Mein Kampf, was taken over by the Bavarian government and it, along with the federal government of Germany has not permitted the publication of Mein Kampf in Germany. It is not actually illegal to own a copy of Hitler’s book, but the German government has tried its best to limit its availability.

As German copyright law permits a book to pass into the public domain seventy years after the death of the author, Mein Kampf will soon be available for publication once more and some scholars are taking advantage of this development by releasing a new, annotated version to the German public.

For 70 years since the Nazi defeat in World War II, copyright law has been used in Germany to prohibit the publication of “Mein Kampf” — the notorious anti-Semitic tome in which Adolf Hitler set out his ideology.

That will change next month when a new edition with critical commentary, the product of several years’ work by a publicly funded institute, hits the shelves.

While historians say it could help fill a gap in Germans’ knowledge of the era, Jewish groups are wary and German authorities are making it clear that they still won’t tolerate any new “Mein Kampf” without annotations.

Under German law, a copyright expires at the end of the year 70 years after an author’s death — in this case, Hitler’s April 30, 1945, suicide in a Berlin bunker as the Soviet army closed in. That means Bavaria’s state finance ministry, which holds the copyright, can no longer use it to prevent the work’s publication beyond Dec. 31.

The book has been published in several other countries; in the U.S., for example, Bavaria never controlled the copyright.

In Germany, many argue that holding back “Mein Kampf” merely created mystique around the book. The idea of at least a partial version with critical commentary for the German market dates back as far as the late 1960s. The Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History, which is behind the new version, sought and was denied permission to produce the book in the mid-1990s when it published a volume of Hitler’s speeches.

Hitler wrote “Mein Kampf” — or “My Struggle” — after he was jailed following the failed 1923 coup attempt known as the Beer Hall Putsch. Millions of copies were printed after the Nazis took power in 1933.

The rambling tome set out Hitler’s ultranationalist, anti-Semitic and anti-communist ideology for his National Socialist German Workers Party, or Nazi party, airing the idea of a war of conquest in eastern Europe.

“The book should not be underestimated as a historical source and also as a key to understanding the history of National Socialism,” the director of the Munich institute, Andreas Wirsching, said ahead of the new edition’s mid-January publication.

“Among serious historians in Germany, you won’t find one who is against a commented edition and hasn’t been calling for one for years,” said Sven Felix Kellerhoff, a journalist with the daily Die Welt and a historian who has written about “Mein Kampf” himself. “That goes from conservatives to the left.”

Jewish opinion varies. The head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, says that knowledge of “Mein Kampf” is important in explaining Nazism and the Holocaust — so “we do not object to a critical edition, contrasting Hitler’s racial theories with scientific findings, to be at the disposal of research and teaching.”

One of his predecessors is more critical. Charlotte Knobloch, a Holocaust survivor who heads Munich’s Jewish community, says she trusts the expertise of the institute’s researchers but doubts that the new edition will achieve its aim of “demystifying and taking apart ‘Mein Kampf.'”

It is likely to awaken interest “not in the commentary, but the original — and that remains highly dangerous,” Knobloch said. “It could still have an impact because both of the core ideas are timeless: ultranationalism and racism.”

 

This shouldn’t really be controversial. Mein Kampf did play a role in recent German history and I don’t think there is any real harm in publishing an annotated edition of the book. In general, I think that trying to ban a book or a movie only draws attention to the material the censor is trying to ban. Human nature being what it is, that which is forbidden automatically becomes more attractive. Since private ownership of Mein Kampf was never illegal and since Germans could find copies online for the last two decades, making a fuss over Hitler’s book seems counterproductive.

Anyway, I doubt if this new and annotated version of Mein Kampf, will lead to a revival of Nazism in Germany. I don’t imagine that many of the Germans who originally joined the Nazi party were convinced by reading Mein Kampf. Hitler wasn’t a particularly original political theorist, though he did prove to be a genius in propaganda and mass psychology, and most of the ideas presented in Mein Kampf were similar to views held by many educated Germans. Hitler himself did not take Mein Kampf all that seriously. Writing the book was largely a means to get needed income while he was in prison. The rise of Hitler was due more to his charisma and the economic and social conditions of Weimar Germany. For many Germans, it seemed as if the more mainstream political parties did not care about their welfare and were eager to sell Germany out to its enemies. If the German authorities are concerned about the rise of extreme nationalist movements in Germany, they might want to study the lessons of Hitler’s rise to power and take care not to make the same sort of mistakes the Weimar authorities did with Hitler.

  • Switzerland Asserts its National Identity in Right-Wing Election Victory (safehaven.com) We are going to see more of this in the next few years. If the mainstream French, German or British political parties cannot convince their people that they care about France, Germany, or Britain than foreign refugees or the increasingly unpopular and unworkable European Union, the people will turn to the extremists.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

 

Thanksgiving

November 26, 2015

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. It is most unfortunate that this day has become little more than an excuse to gorge on turkey. Even worse, the obscenity known as Black Friday has begun to creep back into the holiday making what ought to be a day of giving thanks to the deity a day of frenzied shopping. We in America have perhaps more to be thankful for than any other nation in history and we are probably the biggest ingrates.

Well, anyway, the whole mythology surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday,with the turkey meal, etc is based on the Thanksgiving celebration held by the settlers of Plymouth colony in 1621. They had a lot to be thankful for. These Pilgrims had decided to immigrate to the New World so that they could practice their religion freely. They had intended to settle at the mouth of the Hudson River but their departure from England on the Mayflower had been delayed and the trip across the Atlantic had been rough. They reached America farther north then they had intended,at Provincetown Harbor in November 1620. While they did not really have a legal right to create a colony in what is now Massachusetts, no one really wanted to spend the winter at sea so on December 21, 1620 the Pilgrims began to build the settlement at Plymouth.

Model of a 17th century English merchantman sh...

Would you spend any more time in a leaky ship like this than you had to? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first winter at the new colony was very hard. About half of the colonists had died by spring. By what must have seemed incredible luck or divine providence, the colonists were able to make contact with two Natives who could speak English. One of these was named Samoset and he had learned some English from English trappers and fishermen. He introduced the Pilgrims to the other man, Squanto, who had a truly remarkable life. Captured by Englishmen, he was taken to England and instructed in the English language in the hope that he could serve as an interpreter. When he was brought back to New England, he was captured again, this time by members of John Smith’s expedition who planned to sell captured Indians as slaves in Spain. In Spain, some friars learned of this plan and had the Indians freed and instructed in the Catholic religion. Squanto was able to make his way back to England and then across the Atlantic. There, he discovered that his whole tribe had been destroyed by the diseases, probably smallpox, that the Europeans had already unwittingly brought to the New World.

Squanto was willing to help the Pilgrims and taught what they needed to know to survive in New England.The harvest in the summer of 1621 was good enough that the Pilgrims did not need to fear starvation that winter. They had a feast that Autumn to celebrate their good fortune and to give thanks to God. This celebration was not considered to be anything very remarkable. Thanksgiving celebrations were fairly common at the time, especially among people who had successfully made the difficult and dangerous voyage across the ocean. It was not really the first Thanksgiving.

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon G...

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930). The First Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth in 1621. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There were proclamations of thanksgiving at various times in American history, especially during the Revolutionary War, but the holiday we know of as Thanksgiving really began in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that a national day of Thanksgiving was to be celebrated on the final Thursday of November. It might not seem that there was all that much to be thankful for in the middle of the Civil War but the tide was turning in the North’s favor after the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg that July and the country was continuing to grow in strength and prosperity despite the horrors of the war. Lincoln’s proclamation set the date for the national holiday that has been celebrated ever since. Franklin Roosevelt set the date a week earlier in 1939 in the hope that an earlier date would mean a longer shopping season for Christmas, thus helping the economy still mired in the Great Depression. This was not without controversy and in October 1941 Congress officially set the date of Thanksgiving on the fourth, and almost always the last, Thursday in November.

So,enjoy your turkey but please spare a moment or two to give thanks to the deity you worship. If you happen to be an American you really are one of the luckiest people on Earth.

Veterans Day

November 11, 2015

Today is Veterans Day. This day began as Armistice Day, November 11 1918 being the day that Germany signed the armistice that ended World War I. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day in 1919 to celebrate the courage of the men who fought and died in that war. The day was changed in 1954 in order to honor the veterans of all the wars of America.

I don’t have anything else to say except Thank You to all of the veterans who have served your country. You are better men and women than I am.

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 501 other followers

%d bloggers like this: