Valentine’s Day

English: Saint Valentine kneeling
Valentine?

Today is Valentine’s Day, or St. Valentine‘s Day. Who was Valentine and why does he get a day named after him? The truth is, nobody really knows. Valentine or Valentinus was the name of an early Christian saint and martyr. The trouble is that nothing is known of him except his name. He may have been a Roman priest who was martyred in 269. There was a Valentine who was bishop of Terni who may have been the same man. St. Valentine was dropped from the Roman calendar of Saints in 1969 because of these uncertainties but local churches may still celebrate his day.

It is also not certain how Valentine’s day became associated with love. Some have speculated that the holiday was a Christian substitute for the Roman festival of Lupercalia. However, there is no hint of any association of Valentine’s Day with romance until the time of Chaucer. The holiday seems to have really taken off with the invention of greeting cards.

. Valentine postcard, circa 1900–1910

 

The Indispensable Man

It may not be the popular or politically correct thing to believe, but I hold fast to the opinion that our founding fathers, men like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and the rest are among the greatest men who have ever lived. Our nation would be blessed to have even one such great men at its founding. The fact that we had so many great men must surely attest that America is under the protection of divine providence. Of these great men, George Washington stands head and shoulders above the rest. For his contribution to the cause of liberty, leading the fight for American independence, and then not making himself a king or president for life, Washington is surely one of the greatest men who have ever lived.

It is no easy task to write a biography of Washington. For too many people, Washington seems to be too distant a marble statue of implacable virtue that normal people cannot relate to. The man, with his very real flaws, disappears behind the image. More recently, there is a tendency, among the ignorant woke, to dismiss Washington as merely a slaveholder, never mind the fact that Washington grew up in a time in which slavery was accepted and uncontroversial, that he came to have misgivings about the institution of slavery, and he, almost alone among his contemporary planter class, actually made a real effort to prepare his slaves for the freedom he believed they would gain when slavery, being obsolete, would die out. A candid assessment of Washington’s life and works runs the risk of seeming to be a hagiography, and yet to focus too much on his flaws, does the man an injustice.

James Thomas Flexner’s Washington: The Indispensible Man tries to thread the needle of writing a biography of Washington that makes him be a paragon of virtue while not dwelling overmuch on his flaws. In this effort, Flexner is mostly successful doing a passable job of relating Washington’s life and accomplishments and establishing that Washington was, indeed, the indispensable man without whom the American colonies could not have gained their independence. If you want to know about Washington’s life and accomplishments, this is a good book to read.

I cannot help, however, but feel a little disappointed when I finished Washinton: The Indispensable Man. It is a good work but there are some flaws. For one thing, there are no maps. This might be a fatal flaw in the sections dealing with Washington’s military career in the French and Indian War, and particularly in the Revolutionary War. How is the reader expected to follow the movements of the Continental and British armies without any maps? How can we understand the course of the battles? If I were not already familiar with the battles of the War of Independence, I would have been lost.

The lack of maps is somewhat frustrating, but I had a more serious problem with this book, it is too short, or too long. The problem is that Washington: The Indispensable Man is not the right length for what Flexner is trying to do. It is too long for a mere summary, but not long enough to get to know Washington. The author seems to hint at things but then moves on without going any deeper. I learned about Washington’s deeds, but I did not feel that I got to know Washington the man. I do not feel I got to know any of the people Washington interacted with, his friends, mentors, officers, subordinates. Flexner mentions names, tells a little about what they did and how Washington acted, and then moves on. I don’t get to know how Washington really felt about people he shared his life with.

Part of the problem is that Washington: The Indispensable Man is a condensation of James Thomas Flexner’s earlier four-volume biography of Washington. Flexner asserts in the preface that the text in this book is almost entirely new and not a series of patched together extracts, and while I have no reason to doubt his word, the book does indeed read as if he took out selections from his longer work. It summarizes but leaves tantalizing hints that there is more.

As I said, I can recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about Washington, but I fear that the reader is going to end the book unsatisfied. It is a good book to begin to learn about Washington, but not to end one’s study of the great man.

 

Unscientific American

Scientific American used to be a respectable magazine that reported on the latest scientific discoveries for a popular audience. Sadly, that no longer appears to be the case. Take, for example, this interview with “forensic psychologist” Bandy X Lee, in which she discusses the “shared psychosis”: of President Donald Trump and his followers and how best to wean his followers away from their shared delusions. It used to be regarded as highly unethical, in the psychiatric profession to offer a diagnosis of a person the professional has not interviewed and in fact, the American Psychiatric Association has the Goldwater Rule in its ethical guidelines. This rule states:

On occasion, psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement

Ms. Lee brushes this objection aside in the interview.

In doing so, Lee and her colleagues strongly rejected the American Psychiatric Association’s modification of a 1970s-era guideline, known as the Goldwater Rule, that discouraged psychiatrists from giving a professional opinion about public figures who they have not examined in person. “Whenever the Goldwater rule is mentioned, we should refer back to the Declaration of Geneva, which mandates that physicians speak up against destructive governments,” Lee says. “This declaration was created in response to the experience of Nazism.”

How precisely Trump’s government could be considered “destructive” is not mentioned. The usual reason given by leftists is that Trump has been undermining our constitutional and democratic norms. In fact, it is the leftists who have been undermining the norms to get Trump. They have corrupted and politized our intelligence and federal law enforcement agencies to supple falsified information concerning Russian collusion. They have incited riots and unrest in our major cities. They have imposed censorship in social media to influence the election. They have rigged that election to ensure Trump’s defeat. Ms. Lee herself has abandoned longstanding ethical guidelines to engage in a political attack. I would say that the complaints about Trump undermining norms are prime examples of leftist projection. Ms. Lee’s comparison of Trump to Nazism says much about her own delusions. Ms. Lee might also want to consider the history of Soviet misuse of psychiatry to define dissidents as mentally ill. Her own suggested treatment of allegedly delusional Trump supporters comes dangerously close to Soviet standards. There is a reason why the Goldwater rule exists.

Consider what she has to say when asked what motivates Trump supporters.

The reasons are multiple and varied, but in my recent public-service book, Profile of a Nation, I have outlined two major emotional drives: narcissistic symbiosis and shared psychosis. Narcissistic symbiosis refers to the developmental wounds that make the leader-follower relationship magnetically attractive. The leader, hungry for adulation to compensate for an inner lack of self-worth, projects grandiose omnipotence—while the followers, rendered needy by societal stress or developmental injury, yearn for a parental figure. When such wounded individuals are given positions of power, they arouse similar pathology in the population that creates a “lock and key” relationship.

and

In Profile of a Nation, I outline the many causes that create his followership. But there is important psychological injury that arises from relative—not absolute—socioeconomic deprivation. Yes, there is great injury, anger and redirectable energy for hatred, which Trump harnessed and stoked for his manipulation and use. The emotional bonds he has created facilitate shared psychosis at a massive scale. It is a natural consequence of the conditions we have set up.

For healing, I usually recommend three steps: (1) Removal of the offending agent (the influential person with severe symptoms). (2) Dismantling systems of thought control—common in advertising but now also heavily adopted by politics. And (3) fixing the socioeconomic conditions that give rise to poor collective mental health in the first place.

I wonder if Ms. Lee has actually spoken to any Trump supporter. She might consider that many of them have real grievances that have been unaddressed by any national figure before Trump ran for president. She might also try to understand that many of Trump’s supporters have benefited from his policies. There is a reason why more people voted for Trump in 2020 than in 2016 and why the Democrats had to hype up the COVID-19 threat and then resort to fraud to defeat Trump.

Scientific American had no business publishing this interview with Bandy X Lee. She has acted in violation of ethical guidelines. She has not met or interviewed Donald Trump and is therefore not qualified to submit any psychiatric diagnoses. She is entitled to her opinion about Trump, and other public figures, but such opinions belong in a political opinion journal, not in a publication devoted to scientific matters. The decision by the editors of Scientific American to publish this interview is an indication of the sad decline of any institution taken over by the left. Leftists infiltrate formerly respectable institutions, “wokeify” them, and leave a sort of husk divested of its former virtues. The left is like a sort of parasitical fungus I once read about that eats away at an insect from the inside out leaving only its carapace intact to lure more victims. Such is the fate of the formerly Scientific American.

Rhyming History

Mark Twain is supposed to have said that history does not repeat but it rhymes. Whether or not Twain actually said it, the meaning of this expression is that while historical events do not repeat themselves precisely, there are certain patterns to history. People are people, whatever the differences in geography or culture, and people tend to react to similar events in similar ways. With this in mind, I would like to consider certain historical events with which the current political situation is starting to rhyme in some ominous ways.

The first rhyme begins on January 30, 1933, when German President Paul von Hindenburg reluctantly appointed Nazi leader Adolf Hitler as Chancellor. Hindenburg did not like Hitler very much. Hindenberg was an aristocratic Junker of the old Prussian mode and a monarchist and he despised Hitler as a demagogue and a plebian rabble-rouser. The Nazis, while short a majority, had become the largest party in the Reichstag and it was impossible to form a governing coalition without them. Hitler’s price for such a coalition was to be named Chancellor. Hindenberg had done a creditable job as a Field Marshall in charge of the German military in World War I, but by 1933 he was old, he was 85, tired, and perhaps a bit senile. He succumbed to the pressure to make Hitler Chancellor, against his better judgment.

Hitler was not yet a dictator, though. The Nazis held only three cabinet posts and there were new elections for the Reichstag coming up in March. Most observers felt that Hitler could be contained. Then, on  February 27, a fire broke out at the Reichstag building. A Dutch Communist named Marinus van der Lubbe was found on the scene and arrested. While many then and since have suspected the Nazis of starting the fire themselves, the historical consensus is that van der Lubbe was indeed the arsonist. Nevertheless, the Nazis were swift to take advantage of the incident, citing the fire as evidence of a widespread Communist conspiracy to overthrow the Weimar Republic and institute a Soviet regime.

Is history repeating itself, or rhyming?

The Nazi press spread stories of an imminent Communist takeover inciting panic among the German population and the following day  President von Hindenburg signed the Reichstag Fire Decree, giving Hitler emergency powers, suspending the civil rights of the German People, including freedom of speech and the press and the right to peaceably assemble. The Communist Party was banned and those Communists not already in custody are rounded up and arrested. A month later, on March 24, the Enabling Act was passed, giving the Chancellor the power to rule by decree. Hitler was now a dictator and only President Hindenberg’s prestige and control of the German army stood in the way of absolute power for Hitler. This last barrier was removed when Hindenberg died on August 2, 1934. Hitler combined the offices of president and chancellor and assumed the title of Fuhrer and Reichskanzler.

Does all of this begin to sound familiar? Substitute Democrats for Nazi, Conservative for Communist, and Capitol riot for Reichstag fire and I could easily be talking about the current political situation. There is no Hitler to be found anywhere, thank God, and no one is actually talking about establishing a dictatorship, yet, but it is clear that the Democrats are using last week’s riot at the capitol to justifying attacking our most basic civil rights, with the aid of their Big Tech allies. Conservatives are already being purged from social media platforms, and who can tell what the coming Democratic Congress will enact. Prominent Progressives are openly talking about the need to “reprogram” Trump supporters, people are losing their jobs for backing the wrong side, and Democrats are talking about the need to rein in media “misinformation”.

I have long opposed comparing any politician or political party to Hitler or the Nazis. No one in mainstream American politics, I have said is anything at all like some of the worst people in human history. I might have to revise that position. If the Democrats are going to make use of the Nazi playbook, line by line, then I am going to start calling them what they have revealed themselves to be, Nazis or Fascists.

Meanwhile, if history continues to rhyme in this fashion, I am afraid we are in for some very dark times.

 

The Capitol Hill “Insurrection”

If you are expecting me to condemn the people who stormed Capitol Hill the other day, forget it. It’s not going to happen. The Democrats spent all last summer excusing and condoning the thugs who destroyed property and ruined lives. I am not going to condemn the of an unruly mob of people on my side while they continue to justify violence and repression by activists on their side. I am not going to demand my side play by Marquess of Queensbury rules while their side literally is getting away with murder.

For the last four years, well for many decades really, the leftists have been excusing and condoning violence. They have assaulted and harassed Trump supporters and conservatives with impunity. They have written articles extolling the virtues of punching Nazis, by which they mean anyone to be right of Stalin, and called for a violent insurrection against the Fascist Trump. Last summer, not only did these same Democrats who are busy condemning this “assault on democracy” not only stood by while Antifa and BLM thugs burned down our cities, they actively sided with the terrorists, with the disgraceful spectacle of prominent Democrats taking a knee while wearing kente cloth to show solidarity with actual insurrectionists.

Now, after spending years normalizing political violence, these people are shocked and saddened people on the other side seem to have adopted the new rules they themselves have established. I say seems to because there is reason to believe that the assault on the Capitol was incited by leftist activists posing as Trump supporters. Whatever the truth of the matter, the leftists are upset that both sides can play by the new rules. Some people on the left have made the argument that Antifa/BLM violence is justifiable because they have legitimate grievances about the conduct of police departments. This neatly ignores the fact that Republicans have legitimate concerns about the integrity of the last election. In any case, it simply does not work that way. If violence is an acceptable means to redress grievances by one faction, it is an acceptable means to redress grievances by all factions. You cannot say, “We are permitted to cause mayhem but you are not because we are on the right side of history and you are not.” Like it or not, and to tell the truth I do not like it, the new rules are going to apply to everyone. The Left has spent the recent past being the instigators of violence. They had better become used to being the recipients of violence. If you push people long enough, they will start to push back.

We tried to be nice with the Tea Party. We protested peacefully and worked within the system. We even picked up our garbage. They laughed at us and called us racists and political terrorists while the people we thought were on our side stabbed us in the back. So, we became a little less nice and elected Donald Trump. They called him Hitler and us Fascists, tried to block everything we wanted him to do for us, and even impeached him. They blocked out voices in social media claiming that we were haters.

Last year, they looked the other way as thugs burned down our cities. They made us prisoners in our homes and destroyed our businesses under the guise of fighting a pandemic. They deliberately crashed the economy to harm our President’s chance of reelection and when that wasn’t enough they stole the election before our eyes and told us we were crazy and dangerous to democracy for objecting. Now the same people who had no problem with actual terrorists murdering people want to hang us for treason because a few of us went a little unruly in the defense of our freedom.

We tried to use the ballot box but they stole the election right in front of us. We have used the soapbox, but the tech tyrants and the media are doing their best to silence and marginalize us. It is getting to be time to use the ammo box.

It’s time to stop being nice.

 

 

 

New Year’s Day

I think that New Year’s Day must be my least favorite holiday. The problem is the date, January 1. This has to be the worst time to start off the new year. It is only a week after Christmas. All the excitement of the Christmas season has dissipated and there is a general impression of anti-climax. The holidays are over and it is time to go back to the general routine of everyday life. In addition, January is the coldest, dreariest month of the year and January 1 is right in the middle of winter. I know that winter officially begins on the winter solstice, December 21 or 22, but in midwestern North America, the cold weather begins about a month or more before the solstice. It is possible to forget the dreariness of winter during the Christmas season, but by January, it feels that winter has been here forever and will never end.

It seems to me that it would be better to start the new year at the transition between one season and the next, preferably when winter becomes spring. What would be more appropriate than to start the new year at the beginning of Spring, when the cycle of nature is renewed and new life springs up? Spring is a time of new hopes and beginnings, so why not start the new year at the vernal equinox, March 21? If starting the new year at the beginning of a month seems weird, why not start the new year on March 1 or April 1? Well, maybe starting the new year on April Fool’s Day is not such a good idea. Why do we start the new year on January 1 anyway?

We have the Romans to thank for the date of New Year’s Day. as well as for our calendar, which is derived from the ancient Roman calendar. Originally, the Roman calendar did have March as the first month of the year. According to Roman legend, Rome’s founder Romulus established a ten-month calendar, beginning in March and extending to December. This is why our ninth through twelfth months, September to December have names meaning seventh through tenth months. Obviously, this ten-month calendar didn’t work out at all, so Romulus’s successor, Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, added the months of January and February.

It is not clear how true these legends are, but the twelve-month calendar attributed to Numa was used until Julius Caesar reformed the calendar in 46 BC. At first, the year continued to start in March, but during the republic, new consuls began their terms of office on the kalends, or first day, of January, named for Janus the double-headed god of new beginnings. The Romans did not number their years forward from a past year, as we do, Instead, they named each year after the consuls who served for that year. So, instead of a particular year being 132 since whatever, it would be the year Titus Maximus and Gaius Flavius were consuls. For this reason, it seemed to make sense to start the new year with the beginning of the consuls’ terms, and January first gradually became accepted as the first day of the new year, and when Julius Caesar introduced his Julian calendar, the first of January was officially established as the new year.

 

The Roman god Janus

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, New Year’s Day began to be seen as a holdover from Rome’s pagan past, and a variety of dates were used as New Year’s Day, including Christmas, March 1, and March 25. Calendars still began with January, however, leaving the actual date the new year began up to whoever had the calendar. January 1 was restored as New Year’s Day when Pope Gregory XIII promulgated the Gregorian Calendar in 1582. As the Gregorian Calendar became established as the most widely used calendar in the world, January 1 became the first day of the year worldwide. This means thanks to the Romans and Pope Gregory XIII we are stuck with the new year starting in the dead of winter, instead of spring, and there is nothing I can do about it.

Vote Reparations

Vote reparations are the newest idea from the loony left that every conservative is talking about. What is vote reparations? We’ll let Brandon Hasbrouck explain in his article in the Nation.

Black votes in this country are worth less than white votes. Joe Biden won the Electoral College because Black voters in Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia turned out in significant numbers. But even with overwhelming Black support—94 percent of Detroit voted for Biden!—the outcomes in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania were worryingly close.

We’ll skip over the very real possibility that those close votes were the result of fraud for the sake of the argument. 

One core problem is the Electoral College. Wyoming, which has just 580,000 residents and is 93 percent white, gets three electors because of its two senators and one representative in the House. By comparison, Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District—which includes Atlanta, has 710,000 residents, and is 58 percent Black—has no dedicated electors or senators and can only occasionally overcome the mostly white and conservative votes from elsewhere in the state. This devaluation of Black votes allows our political system to ignore Black lives, and the consequences are devastating. Unequal representation has led to unequal health care outcomes, which the Covid-19 pandemic has only worsened. Without sufficient voting power, Black communities receive substandard education, and politicians are free to appoint judges who sanction mass incarcerationabusive policing, and electoral disenfranchisement.

This is all by design. The Constitution’s framers set up the Electoral College to protect the interests of slave states. Along with the Senate, the Electoral College was critical in the endurance of slavery and its continuation by other means. Abolishing this system would mean that ballots cast by Black voters—or any voters, for that matter—would count the same.

But there’s another way to undo the damage of the Electoral College and other structurally racist political institutions: We can implement vote reparations by double-counting ballots cast by all Black residents. The poisonous legacy of slavery applies to Black people regardless of when we or our ancestors arrived in this country. Vote reparations should also extend to Native Americans. Slavery is rightly called America’s original sin, but so too was the United States’ genocidal seizure of land from its original inhabitants. Various legal forms of disenfranchisement have applied to them. It wasn’t until 1962 that all Native Americans were allowed to vote, and even then they faced—and still face—electoral obstacles. These are not the only examples of American oppression; we should include in vote reparations others who have suffered similar disenfranchisement.

Basically, the idea that Blacks, and perhaps other people who have suffered from past and present discrimination should get two votes to make up for past wrongs. 

There is a lot to object to in this idea, not least of which is the old maxim that two wrongs do not make a right. You cannot remedy injustice against one group by practicing injustice against the other. I will have more to say about that in a moment, but first, I think it is worth observing that the whole idea of vote reparations is based on a false premise, the idea that the constitution and particularly the electoral college were designed to perpetuate slavery. Logically, if the premise is false, the conclusion must also be false.

Contrary to what the architects of the 1619 Project contend, the constitution was not designed to perpetuate slavery. The framers of the constitution wanted to create a republican government that would preserve liberty for themselves and their descendants. The founding fathers drew from many sources, both ancient and modern for inspiration, including the greatest political philosophers throughout history, particularly Aristotle, Polybius, John Locke, Edmund Burke, and Montesquieu. These thinkers generally believed that the best way to preserve liberty was to create a mixed government, that is, a government that included elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, all in balance with a separation of powers. The framers of the constitution wanted a system that was somewhat democratic, but not too democratic, so they included undemocratic features, like the Electoral College into the constitution. The founding fathers did not want the president to be elected by the people, the people might not know the candidates very well. They wanted the president to be elected by representatives of the people, selected by the state legislatures. None of this had anything to do with slavery. In fact, the Constitution, and especially the Declaration of Independence, with its declaration that all men are created equal had rather a corrosive effect on the institution of slavery. 

Getting back to the subject of vote reparations, then. Aside from the obvious injustice of awarding differing numbers of votes based on race and color, the problem I have with this sort of restorative justice is that I wonder when does it all end. At what point are the previously oppressed and the previous oppressors even? If we embark on a policy of privileging the descendants of the oppressed at the expense of the descendants of the oppressors? If Blacks get reparations paid by Whites today, do Whites have a claim on reparations a hundred years from now based on the oppression their ancestors endured at the hands of privileged Blacks? 

It may seem ludicrous to consider Whites being oppressed by Blacks today, but how do people like Mr. Hasbrouck think Whites are going to react when they see their Black neighbors getting two votes? Probably the same way they think about any government policy that shows preference to Blacks at the expense of Whites. Few Whites are going to simply shrug their shoulders and say, well they deserve the extra votes because our grandfathers oppressed their grandfathers. The Whites are inevitably going to feel discriminated against, with some justification. Dismissing their just grievances as simply as more racism will only make them angrier. 

So, where does it end? Do we simply continue on an endless cycle of discrimination, flipping back and forth between the races, or do we put an end to discrimination and treat everyone as equal? Do we continually revisit the injustices of the past to foster an endless sense of grievance or do we move forward into a brighter future? Vote Reparations would only take us back to an endless pattern of racism today, racism tomorrow, and racism forever. I think it is better to aim for a future of liberty and equality. 

 

The Nativity According to John

Like Mark, John does not include a narrative of the nativity. Instead, John chooses to go all the way back to the beginning.

 1.In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life,and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-4)

“The Word” is the usual translation of the Greek word λογος (logos) but logos means more than just “word” Logos means something like speech or discourse or reason. Hence the word logic is derived from logos, as well as “ology” as in geology or biology. The Stoic philosophers used the word logos to refer to the divine Reason in their pantheistic belief system while the Hellenistic Jews identified logos with the wisdom or spirit of God. John follows the Jewish view by identifying the logos with God. Notice he also identifies light and life with God this is a theme found throughout his gospel and in the first letter of John.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1:6-8)

John the Baptist was not the Word. He was only a messenger.

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

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:9-14)

The Word became flesh. But who was the Word or the Son?

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

The Word made flesh was Jesus Christ. Of the four gospels, John most emphasizes the divine nature of Jesus, even to the point of omitting incidents that show any weakness on the part of Jesus. John does not mention Jesus’s temptation in the desert by the Devil after being baptized by John the Baptist nor does he show Jesus’s agony at the Garden of Gethsemane. There is no cry of despair from the cross. Jesus is always shown as being calm and in control of events.

It may be that John wanted to emphasize the divinity of Jesus as a rebuttal to those who either believed that Jesus, while the Messiah was merely human and those who held that Jesus was born human but had been adopted as the Son at his baptism or at some other time. John states that Jesus has existed since before time began as the eternal Word of God. At the same time, John firmly rejects the other extreme that Jesus did not really have a body made of matter but only seemed to be flesh. This idea was held by many Gnostics who taught that physical matter was an inferior substance to the spiritual realm, created by an inferior, and perhaps evil, deity. Jesus Christ, being an emissary from the higher God could not have a body made of mere flesh. John asserts that the Word was made flesh and that really did have a body and really did eat and sleep.

Curiously, both these heresies are still found today, clothed in modern garb. Many liberal theologians cannot believe in the divinity of Jesus and insist that he was merely a great moral teacher. Some Atheists insist that Jesus never really existed in the physical realm but only as a myth. Maybe there really is nothing new under the Sun.

 

The Nativity According to Mark

The Gospel of Mark does not 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 then 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

The Adoration of the Magi (circa 1305) by Giot...
The Adoration of the Magi

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Most people think that the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem involved the murder of hundreds or thousands of innocents. Remember, though, that Bethlehem was a small village at 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.

 

It is also not clear just what the Star of Bethlehem 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 phenomenon and one that cannot be studied today.