Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

The Nativity According to Mark

December 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

(Mark 1:1-8)

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

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

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

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

(Mark 1:9-15)

English: John the Baptist baptizing Christ

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

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

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

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

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The Personal Submarine

March 23, 2015

I found what I want for Christmas in the Hammacher-Schlemmer Catalog, the personal submarine.

This is the two-person submersible that can descend to a depth of 1,000′. Providing access to underwater features such as coral reefs, shipwrecks, and the sea floor, a completely transparent, climate-controlled 3 1/4″-thick acrylic pressure sphere keeps explorers safe while dipping even into the mesopelagic zone, offering a chance to see exotic, bioluminescent species such as lanternfish. With a maximum speed of three knots, it is powered by a 120- and 24-volt battery bank that provide up to six hours of continuous undersea adventure. The craft is propelled by two 3-hp main thrusters that provide fore, aft, and directional control and two 3-hp vertical/translational thrusters that provide up, down, and lateral control. A centrally located joystick with independent main and vertical/translational thruster controls enables precise positioning near undersea attractions. The craft’s dual-pontoon structure and broad freeboard ensure superior surface stability, even in high sea conditions. While submerged, four external 150-watt quart-halogen lamps illuminate subjects while a xenon strobe light and RF beacon alerts others of the craft’s whereabouts. The 56 3/4″-diameter sphere’s inner diameter enables comfortable, upright seating for passengers. A VHF radio provides surfaced communication and its underwater telephone communicates while submerged. It is equipped with a suite of standard instrumentation, including a barometer, thermometer, hygrometer, depth gauges, fluxgate and magnetic compasses, mechanical clinometers, pressure gauges, and a GPS receiver. Fully classified and certified as a +A1 passenger-carrying manned submersible by the American Bureau of Shipping. Includes comprehensive training. 10 1/2′ L x 8 1/2′ W x 6 1/4′ H. (6,600 lbs.)

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It’s only $2,000,000. Cheap.

But if that is too expensive, for only $300,000, you can get me the amphibious sub-surface watercraft.

This is the partially submersible watercraft that provides above- and underwater viewing options, driving right off a trailer and into the water without the need for a crane, tender vessel, or dock. Ideal for exploring underwater environments without the need for a fully submersible craft, this one is composed of a buoyant above-water upper hull and two-person cockpit that provides 180º surface views and an inverted 1 1/2”-thick acrylic hemisphere below that provides two additional passengers underwater views. The upper cockpit houses controls for two horizontally oriented underwater thrusters that provide up to 6 knots forward/4 knots backward movement as well as 360º turns. While on land, each of the craft’s ground track systems are driven by dedicated 48-volt intercooled electric motors, enabling their heavy-duty rubber tracks to negotiate up to 30º gradients for convenient ocean-, lake-, or boat ramp-based water entry and egress. The tracks enable 360º axis turns, ideal for precise maneuvering. Two 24-volt lithium battery banks provide 110 hours of water operation (up to 8 hours on land) before requiring a recharge using the included AC adapter. Consult local ordinances for road legal use. 12′ L x 8′ W x 8′ H. (3,400 lbs.)

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Hammacher-Schlemmer certainly does offer the Best, the Only, the Unexpected , and the Ridiculously Expensive gifts.

Imagine

January 5, 2015

I have always rather liked the melody of John Lennon’s Imagine. I cannot say, however, that I especially like the lyrics, expressing as they do every idiot left wing idea imaginable. It turns out that I am far from the only one who finds the lyrics objectionable. Mark Davies, the Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury in Birmingham, England expressed his objections to the song in his Christmas sermon.

John Lennon’s famous song “Imagine,” which pines for a Marxist utopia devoid of property and religion, lyrically promotes the “ill-founded belief” that “religion is the cause of wars,” when the devastatingly brutal wars of the 20th century were “largely inspired by secularist” and “openly anti-Christian ideologies,” says Catholic Bishop Mark Davies in his scheduled Christmas Day sermon.

Bishop Davies oversees the Catholic Diocese of Shrewsbury in Birmingham, England.  This 2014 Christmas marks the 100th anniversary of a Christmas “truce” during World War I when British and German soldiers, after an appeal by then-Pope Benedict XV, ceased fighting for a day and actually exchanged greetings and gifts and played soccer on the battlefield.

“Why did this happen?” says Bishop Davies in his homily, as reported in the Catholic Herald. “What could have drawn enemies from their entrenched positions to greet each other as friends?”

“[I]t was surely a light which first shone with the birth of a child born in Bethlehem, a Savior given to all humanity who turns our minds to thoughts of peace,” says the bishop.

“The events of Christmas 1914 give the lie to the lazily repeated assertion that ‘religion is the cause of wars,” says Bishop Davies.  “John Lennon would give voice to this ill-founded belief in the lyrics of his song ‘Imagine.’”

“This becomes a heart-chilling vision in which Lennon imagines a world with no hope of heaven and no fear of hell,” says the bishop, “And he adds, ‘no religion too.’ Only then, he suggests will ‘all the people’ be ‘living life in peace.’”

The bishop continued, “Yet the fact is, the wars of the century past, bringing with them atrocities and destruction on a scale never seen before, were largely inspired by secularist and, indeed, openly anti-Christian ideologies. In reality, it is human sin which lies at the root cause of war.”

The idea that religion is the cause of war has been heavily promoted by the so-called New Atheists to justify their anti-theist positions. It is a simplistic idea and easy to believe. It is not true, however. Religion is often the pretext for war. It is not so often the sole cause of war. A quick survey of the many wars throughout history shows relatively few wars are really over religious differences. The Peloponnesian War, the Hundred Years War, the American Civil War, World Wars I and II and many, many others had little to do with religion, even if the combatants believed that God was on their side. Even wars that are fought over religion, such as the Wars of Religion during the Protestant Reformation, on closer examination reveal other motivations, political or opportunistic, are at work. The German Princes who supported Luther were genuinely opposed to the abuses of the Catholic Church, but they were also inspired by German nationalism and a desire to maintain their own power against the imperial pretensions of the Hapsburgs. The Islamic hordes who burst out of the Arabian Peninsula may have been religious fanatics, but they were also attracted by the prospect of booty.

But, I think there is more to object to John Lennon’s song than just the anti-religion themes. Consider the lyrics.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky

Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion,

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You, you may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will live as one

John Lennon may have been a dreamer, but he doesn’t seem to have been much of a thinker. He wanted everybody to live in harmony together, yet he sings against the institutions that help people to live together in peace.

What if there were no countries? Would all the people live together in harmony? In Stone Age cultures people do not live in countries, or nation states or formal government. They effectively live in a state of anarchy recognizing no loyalty higher than that of the clan or tribe. People living in such primitive culture tend not to live peaceful lives.Their lives are far more violent than that of people living in more advanced societies. How could it be otherwise? When there is no higher authority to settle disputes between tribes, they often must fight feuds. When there are no police, courts or jails, the only way to assure justice is the threat of revenge by kinsmen. When people began to organize into cities and kingdoms, their rulers found it expedient to discourage private violence by adopting law codes and having the state administer punishment for crimes. When the nations of Europe began to coalesce into centralized nation states in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, one major concern of kings was to eliminate the private wars that was the nobility’s prerogative in the Medieval Period. The kings fought wars against each other but their subjects had to be at peace. The result was larger, but fewer wars. In the last few decades, we have begun to develop ways of mediating between nations and a somewhat crude form of international governance which has made war between the major powers almost unthinkable. Perhaps this idea should be taken to its logical outcome and a world government instituted to keep the peace, but I think that the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages of such a system. The point is, that the development of nations and countries has actually made life more peaceful for most people throughout history. A world of people living in anarchy would not be harmonious.

What about possessions? If we had no possessions would there be no hunger or greed? I don’t see how it would be possible to avoid starvation. Food is, after all, a possession and if there were no possessions there would be no food. And why would anyone take the trouble to grow more food than he needed to feed himself and his family if there were no way to pay him? Why would anyone want to do anything? Maybe John Lennon meant that everything would be held in common. Would this lead to harmony?

Aristotle understood more than 2300 years ago that private property is essential for maintaining peace and prosperity. As he put it, people are naturally self-interested and so more interested in caring for and improving what they perceive as belonging to them, while neglecting the affairs they see as others’ responsibility. Private property creates a more harmonious society since things held in common tend will be fought over. Everyone would naturally take as much as they need from the commune while contributing as little as they could get away with. No matter what system would be set up to distribute the common goods, someone would be sure to feel they are not getting their fair share. There is peace when property ownership is clearly defined with clear laws protecting property rights and commerce. Most of the rich countries of the world have such laws and are relatively peaceful and stable. Most of the poor countries lack such laws and are unstable and turbulent.

I am afraid that John Lennon’s dream would not lead to a world of everyone living together in harmony. It would lead to a Hobbesian nightmare of all warring against all and lives nasty, brutish and short. Maybe we should imagine less and think more.

 

Bethlehem of Galilee

December 30, 2014

Both nativity stories in the New Testament have Jesus of Nazareth being born in the town of Bethlehem and most Christians have believed that the Bethlehem referred to is the small town, not far from Jerusalem, the traditional birthplace of King David. Recently an Israeli archeologist, Dr. Aviram Oshri has argued that this consensus is based on a mistake in geography. As is often the case, he believes that there was more than one town named Bethlehem and that Jesus was born in a Bethlehem in Galilee. I read about Dr. Oshri’s theory in this article at inquisitr.com.

There’s a groundswell of people accepting that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, just not the one we’ve known for years.

The International Business Times is reporting that Israel archaeologist Dr. Aviram Oshri believes that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of Galilee, nine miles west of Nazareth, and not where Christians for centuries have believed Christ’s birthplace to be: about 100 miles from Nazareth, near Jerusalem.

Part of Oshri’s argument lies around Mother Mary herself.

“How would a woman nine months pregnant travel 175 kilometres on a donkey all the way to Bethlehem of Judea? It makes much more sense that she would travel 14 kilometres,” Oshri states.

Oshri has been excavating near what he calls the second Bethlehem for over a decade now, and has discovered a Byzantine-era underground.

“Underneath the church, where the holiest of holies usually is, there was a natural cave,” he added.

Some Christian theories have Jesus being born in a manger located in a cave

Oshri’s site shows what could have been a two-story inn underneath the recently found church. Another interesting fact is that historical records show a fortifying wall being built in biblical Bethlehem. Though no such wall appears in Bethlehem, there are signs of one in Oshri’s site.

Not everyone agrees with Dr. Oshri’s findings.

Many people have claimed Dr. Oshri’s work to be erroneous. The Israel Antiquities Authority denounces his work as “worse than a joke.”

Oshri remains undeterred. “As I dig deeper and deeper, I am more convinced,” he says.

It is an intriguing idea, but it just doesn’t work. The Gospels are very clear that Jesus was born David’s home town. This was not simply an accident of geography. Bethlehem of Judea is where the Messiah or Christ had to be born.

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.” (Matt 2:1-8)

Herod would not have been threatened by any child born in Galilee, whatever his ancestry. Of course, this assumes that the Biblical account is accurate. For someone who does not believe the Gospels are historically accurate, the most reasonable assumption is that Jesus was born in Nazareth and that the Nativity stories of Matthew and Luke are simply pious fictions.

One of the problems here is that the popular idea of the birth of Jesus, as celebrated in Nativity Scenes does not actually correspond to the actual narratives found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Mary was not actually nine months pregnant when she and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem. Neither the gospel of Matthew or Luke tells us how long they spent in Bethlehem but it was likely to have been a considerable period of time, perhaps months or even years. Remember that Herod ordered every male child two years old and younger to be killed. The Magi didn’t just show up as Jesus was being born.

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. (Matt 2:16)

In fact, Joseph was more likely to take Mary with him if he expected to be gone for many months. What of the inn, though? Did Joseph and Mary spend months living in an outbuilding?

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

Well, as it happens, they very likely didn’t stay at an inn at all nor did Mary give birth in a barn. The Greek word translated as “inn” in Luke, καταλυμα (kataluma) actually means something closer to “guest room” The NIV actually translates kataluma as guest room. Bethlehem was a small village and it is not likely that there were any inns there.

English: The Church of the Nativity in Bethleh...

English: The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Place of Jesus’ birth Русский: Святая Пещера Рождества, православный престол над местом рождения Спасителя. Базилика Рождества Христова в Вифлееме (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even if there were, Joseph would surely have preferred to stay with his relatives. In most houses of that time and place, the guest room would be on the upper floor. In fact, kataluma is also used to refer to the “upper room” in Acts.

12 Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey.

13 And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. (Acts 1:12-13)

Most of the day-to-day activity in the house would have taken place on the ground floor and at night the animals would have been brought into the ground floor for protection and warmth. In other words, Joseph and Mary were not staying out in a stable because the inns were too crowded. They were staying in the ground floor of their host’s residence because the guest room was already taken.

There is no particular reason to question the Biblical account of the location of the birth of Jesus. If the Gospels are not true, than we have no way of knowing where Jesus was really born, nor perhaps does it matter very much. Most likely he was born in Nazareth or some other village in Galilee. If the Gospels are true, then they state very plainly that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, not in Galilee.

 

 

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

December 24, 2014

Well, there was, at any rate. He was not a “jolly old elf”, he did not live at the North Pole, and he never made any toys or drove a sleigh with eight reindeer. He didn’t look like this.

He actually looked more like this.

Of course, I am talking about Saint Nicholas of Myra, the historical person on which the legends of Santa Claus are based.

Santa Claus is derived from the Dutch “Sinter Klaus”, and it was Dutch immigrants who brought over many of our ideas of Santa, including the idea of a man who gives out presents to well behaved children. Another influence was Father Christmas from Britain. And, of course there was the poem “The Night Before Christmas” which introduced the whole idea of the reindeer, going down chimneys, etc.The cartoonist Thomas Nast is believed to be responsible for the first portrayal of Santa in his red suit, and also the idea that he lives at the North Pole.

But the real Saint Nicholas was a bishop of the city of Myra in Asia Minor, or present day turkey. He lived from around 270-343. He was a Greek Christian whose parents died of an epidemic when he was very young. From his childhood he was religious. His uncle, also a bishop, raised him and when he was old enough made him a monk. Eventually he was made a bishop by the Christian community of Myra. There he stayed until his death in 343.

Nicholas apparently was quite a zealous bishop. He was imprisoned during the last great persecution of the Emperor Diocletian, but was released when Constantine became Emperor. He debated against and fought the pagans and the Arians, a heretic branch of Christianity, and participated in the great Council of Nicaea, where he lost control of his temper and actually slapped Arius. He was imprisoned for this but released after three days.

He was most famous for his acts of charity, many of which are probably legendary.The most famous story is that passing by a house he heard three daughters lament because their father could not afford a dowry for any of them. Without a dowry they could not get married and would probably have to resort to prostitution to survive. (Somehow this story never made into the children’s specials.) He threw a bag of gold into their window as each girl became old enough to marry. In one variation of the story, by the time of the third daughter, the father lay in wait to discover the identity of his benefactor. When Nicholas saw this, he threw the bag into their chimney.

After his death, Nicholas was buried in Myra, but in 1087, with Asia Minor being overrun by the Turks, some Italian sailors stole the remains and brought them to Bari, where they remain to this day.

Nicholas is a Saint in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches His feast day is December 6, today, and he is the patron saint of children, sailors, repentant thieves, pawn brokers, and others.

So, now you know the true story of Santa Claus.

If you want to know more about Catholic saints see here.

 

The Nativity According to Luke

December 22, 2014

The Gospel of Luke tells us what Christmas is all about

 

Linus quotes from the Gospel according to Luke.

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 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)

Luke is a historian of the Hellenistic school, like Herodotus or Thucydides. Although he tries to establish times and places, he is actually less interested in being precise than in understanding the meaning of the events he records. In fact, it wasn’t so easy to give exact dates in those times, given that every city and region had its own calendar and way of numbering or naming the years.

There is a considerable amount of skepticism about 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. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much. In the other hand, she was also of the line of David and perhaps her presence in Bethlehem might have been desirable. Again you must not imagine that Mary was on the point of giving birth as they traveled. They could have spent several weeks in Bethlehem.

 

 

The Nativity According to Mark

December 22, 2014

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.

Atheist Christmas Specials

December 20, 2014

I am not sure that this story I read in the Washington Times really counts as part of the War on Christmas while the atheists involved are not trying to stop any one from celebrating the Christmas holiday.

Conservatives have been mocked for insisting there’s an ongoing war on Christmas, but now it looks like they may have simply been ahead of their time.

Anyone who doubts that there has been a war against Christmas either hasn’t been paying attention or is being disingenuous. These days, not a holiday season goes by without the Freedom from Religion Foundation or the American Atheists or some other militant secular group suing some town for putting up a nativity scene or somehow acknowledging that Christmas is a Christian holiday.

American Atheists unveiled Wednesday the “War on Christmas” line-up on its television channel, AtheistTV, featuring “original programs proclaiming the truth about Christmas on December 24 and December 25, featuring scholars and celebrities from the atheist community

“Christmas is hard for many atheists, so we will provide programming free from superstition and fairy tales that allows families to watch together and not worry about being preached at,” American Atheists President Dave Silverman said in a statement.

Conservatives like Fox News talk-show hosts Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly have long warned of a “War on Christmas,” citing moves by retailers, public schools and local governments to remove references to Christmas from displays and celebrations.

The network’s annual Coverage of anti-Christmas happenings has drawn taunts from “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, such as last year’s “War on Christmas: S***’s Getting Weird Edition,” while the liberal online magazine Salon weighed in with a sarcastic article titled, “9 reasons Fox News thinks there’s a war on Christmas.”

AtheistTV’s slate of “holiday-inspired specials” probably won’t make anyone forget “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” They include a speech by Council for Secular Humanism Executive Director Tom Flynn and an episode of the atheist viewpoint titled, ‘Is Christmas a Religious Holiday?

There’s also the “Xmas 2009” episode of The Atheist Experience and episodes of The Atheist Voice with The Friend Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta, according to the press release.

The AtheistTV channel was launched worldwide on July 29 and can be accessed via Roku set-top boxes or as a free online stream at www.atheists.tv, the release said.

Somehow I don’t think that these shows will replace classics like A Charlie Brown Christmas or Frosty the Snowman as the sort of thing families will gather around and watch. Indeed, it might be a form of child abuse to force young children to watch lectures by prominent atheists during the Holiday season.

I don’t have any objection to AthiestTV or to any of these shows. Why should I? Unlike the more litigious atheists, I do not care how, or even if, other people want to celebrate any holidays they wish in any way that they wish. I will gladly leave them alone. I just wish they would leave the rest of us alone.

I have to wonder why Christmas is hard for many atheists, as secularized and de-Christianized as the holiday has become. Why can’t they celebrate Christmas without Christ? And why do they have to refer to the beliefs of others as “fairy tales” and “superstitions”? I don’t have to put down other religions if I talk about the birth of the Savior. Here again is an example of the negativity of Atheism. The Atheist does not have a positive message to spread. He can only tear down others.

I don’t think I will have much of an opportunity to see any of these Atheist Christmas Specials. Most likely they will be a waste of time. I imagine that they will showcase the usual bad arguments on how Jesus never existed and Christmas is really a pagan holiday, arguments long since debunked. Hardly worth the trouble.

Why So Negative?

December 8, 2014

The American Atheists are launching an advertising campaign in the heart of the Bible Belt. Like many such campaigns,this one is being described as “controversial” and “provocative” in the media. Here is one account in the Telegraph.

Atheist activists are taking their campaigns to the Bible Belt this Christmas with a provocative billboard campaign that is expected to stir controversy in America’s religious heartlands.

The giant advertising hoardings in the Tennessee cities of Memphis, Nashville, St. Louis and Fort Smith, Arkansas show a mischievous-looking young girl writing her letter to Father Christmas: “Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I’m too old for fairy tales,” she writes.

The advertising campaign by the American Atheists group will run until Christmas Eve and is the first time the group has aimed its anti-God adverts directly at residential religious areas, having previously targeted urban audiences in big venues such as Times Square in New York.

“Today’s adults have no obligation to pretend to believe the lies their parents believed. It’s OK to admit that your parents were wrong about God, and it’s definitely OK to tell your children the truth,” said David Silverman, the group’s president, as he launched the campaign.

In a sign of the hostility the adverts are expected to generate, American Atheists said that it had failed secure a single billboard site in Jackson, Mississippi after leasing companies collectively refused to offer space, fearing a community backlash.

“The fact that billboard companies would turn away business because they are so concerned about the reaction by the community shows just how much education and activism on behalf of atheists is needed in the South,” added Danielle Muscato, the group’s spokesperson.

And yet, somehow their idea of education and activism seems to be intent on driving people away by being as offensive as possible.

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Don’t call me a fairy tale! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do many atheists seem to feel the need to deprecate the religious faith of others?  I think part of the reason lies in the nature of atheism. As atheism is the absence of belief in a deity, atheism is an inherently negative belief system. An atheist argues against  belief.

If I were to preach Christianity, I have a positive message to proclaim, the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I do not need to disparage other religions as fairy tales. As C. S. Lewis pointed out in his Mere Christianity,I do not even have to believe that all other religions are completely wrong. I can find truth and even virtue among people with very different beliefs and traditions from my own. I can praise the Muslim for his piety in praying five times every day or the Buddhist for his cultivation of compassion. I can find common ground with which to spread the message of Christ. Consider the way in which Paul spoke to the Athenian philosophers.

18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teachingis that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:18-31)

Notice that he did not tell the Athenians that they were superstitious idol-worshippers. He complimented them on being very religious and explained that he knew about the god they worshipped in ignorance. A Christians can conceivably approach the believer of any other faith in a similar fashion.

An Atheist really cannot. In order to be an atheist, a person has to believe that the follower of any religion, whatever its beliefs and practices, is a a deluded fool who believes in fairy tales. Even if an atheist concedes that a believer might be doing some good, feeding the hungry or caring for the sick, he has to believe that that the believer is likely doing good, not for the sake of goodness in itself but only to to please an imaginary deity. The Atheist cannot meet the believer halfway. He must believe that he is right and everyone he meets who happens to be a believer in any religion, in other words the majority of the people he comes into contact with, are simply wrong. This is not a belief that lends itself to feelings of charity and tolerance for the beliefs of others. In fact, that may be the source of much of emotional appeal of Atheism, the heady, gnostic feeling of possessing superior knowledge, of being in the know while others are so ignorant.

What ever the truth might be, this negativity is part of the reason I am not am Atheist. For myself, I prefer a positive to a negative and to build rather than tear down.

Happy Holidays

December 8, 2013

I am coming to loath the greeting Happy Holidays. By itself, happy holidays is an innocuous phrase with nothing even remotely offensive about it, yet, in recent years, it has come to represent a certain way of thinking that I do not really appreciate. Let me explain by first showing a recent email I have received.

Friend —

The official organization charged with electing Republicans to the House — the national Republican Party! — thinks that telling people “Happy Holidays” is something that only liberals do.

They’re even selling coffee mugs and t-shirts with that claim and using the proceeds to elect more Republicans.

It isn’t just divisive. It’s offensive.

As Democrats (and Americans) we want everyone to enjoy whatever holiday it is that they’re celebrating this time of year. And that goes for our Republican friends, too.

So in the spirit of the season, we thought we’d make it easy for everyone to share a holiday greeting with the GOP!
http://my.democrats.org/Happy-Holidays-GOP

At the very least, it’ll be a nice reminder that even though we come from different places with different sets of traditions, Americans everywhere love a good holiday card.
Seasons greetings!

Mo

Mo Elleithee
Communications Director
Democratic National Committee

The list of holidays that the Democrats celebrate can be found at the link. They are Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, and New Year. First, Festivus is a made up holiday. It was introduced as a joke in the sitcom Seinfeld. I have no objection to anyone deciding to celebrate Festivus, but please don’t insult us by comparing to the real holidays that are celebrated this time of year.

Kwanzaa is another made up holiday. Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by a Black Nationalist named Maulana Karenga as a holiday to replace Christmas and celebrate Black American’s African heritage. Kwanzaa actually has very little to do with any authentic African tradition or celebration. Even the name, and the names of the seven virtues it celebrates are from the wrong part of Africa. They are words in Swahili, which is spoken on the east coast of Africa. Most African Americans have ancestors from the west coast, a continent away. Still, I will take Kwanzaa at face value as a celebration of African culture.

Chanukah is, of course, a commemoration of a Jewish struggle for religious freedom against a ruler who insisted on being worshiped as a god. I can imagine why our contemporary progressives who believe the state should be worshiped as a god might not like that story.

Not much needs to be said about Christmas. For Christians, Christmas is the anniversary of one of the most important events in human history. Only Good Friday and Easter are more important. Christmas is the day when the Creator of the universe took on humanity for our redemption.

New Years is, well the beginning of the year.

Each of these holidays has a distinct meaning that is worth celebrating. My complaint about happy holidays is that it blends all of these distinct traditions into a sort of generic “holidays” that really doesn’t mean much at all. I would prefer the various holidays to remain distinct and meaningful.

The other reason that I dislike happy holidays is that somehow, Christmas is the only holiday that anyone finds offensive. There seems to be a real effort to make the public celebration of Christmas somehow unseemly, except in its most secular manifestations. This seems to be part of an effort to make public displays of Christianity somehow shameful. The idea is to fundamentally transform the United States from a Christian nation into something very different. Yes, we are, or were a Christian nation. We have never had an established church, nor should we, but our culture and institutions has, until very recently, been influenced by the Christian tradition. This would be a very different country if the people who had settled North America had been Muslims or Buddhists. This will be a very different country, and not a better one, if the radical secularists have their way.

So, there you have it. To me, happy holidays has come to represent trends that I do not approve of and would stop if I could. I love Christmas and would have it keep its meaning. I support the cause that Chanukah represents. I am even starting to admire African culture as I learn something of the history of Africa. I don’t want these traditions forgotten or trivialized.

 

 


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