Tag Archives | Christianity

60 Minutes Feature on Mt. Athos

Mt. Athos in Greece is a unique place where Orthodox monks live a monastic life. Though Greece protects the peninsula, it is self governed by the monks of the 20 monasteries of the Eastern Orthodoxy. Special permission is needed to visit Mt. Athos and only a few visitors are allowed each month. Mt. Athos does not permit women to enter and this ban has been in place since 1045 CE, since the time of the Byzantine emperor Constantine Monomachos. Mt. Athos does not even permit female animals (female cats are allowed since they catch rats).

Most of us will never set foot in this autonomous monastic state where orthodoxy has been preserved for a millenia. So the next best option is to watch the CBS 60 Minutes feature on this. (Part 1, Part 2). Ironically, the CBS clips are sponsored by viagra.

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16th Century Europe

In 1492 Christopher Columbus set of to Asia and reached the Americas. Six years later Vasco da Gama reached Calicut. Following these, Europeans made many such voyages, started trading companies and eventually colonized the world. But what was Europe like in those days? Movies like 1492: Conquest of Paradise and The Sea Hawk give us  some images, but they do not present the complete picture.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has posted lectures given by Prof. George L. Mosse in the Fall of 1969. One of the lectures (mp3) deals with this question and the image of Europe of that period is not pretty.

By 1500, economic conditions were severe: a price revolution was starting, but it was also a time of bad harvests. 1500 saw a total crop failure in all of Germany that resulted in peasant uprisings, looting and pillaging, to such a proportion that in 1501 Europe for the firsts time saw a paid police force to maintain order. Additional scourges were diseases and epidemics. First and foremost, the Black Death: To the populations of Europe, this seemed like a willful and arbitrary punishment. Between 1499 and 1502, whole populations were decimated. A new disease, syphilis, joined the plague. This prompted preachers to call for repentance, penance and pilgrimages. The Plague was more frightening than the syphilis, because it occurred suddenly and greatly disfigured its victims. All of this leads to a heightened religious sensibility and a search for answers by all parts of the population.

To find answers, people turned to a kind of literature that had come down from the Middle Ages and was most popular: books of prophecies. Their content was simple, promising hope for the future: darkness would be followed by light, and after the Anti-Christ would come Christ. The roots of these books lay partly in the bible (which, Mosse tells the students, he is sure they have never read), especially in the Books of the Apocalypse. The Apocalypse is written in symbolic terms. Before the book of the seven seals can be opened, “the wine must be pressed and the harvest reaped” that means, before Christ’s return there will be bloody wars and mass the conversion of the heathens, especially of the Jews, to Christianity. Man lived in the expectation that the world was coming to an end; Luther believed it, and so did all protestant reformers and many of the intellectuals. With it came astrology. The stars were now in an evil conjunction. Saturn was “the evil planet”. The Anti-Christ would come up from the darkness; for a short while the Jews would rule the world before their conversion. Then the book of seven seals would be opened. (For example, Shakespeare firmly believed in astrology).[European Cultural History 1500-1815 - Summary]

Read the whole thing: European Cultural History 1500-1815 – Summary

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Two New Fakes

It is Easter time and it is time for two new hoaxes.

Two ancient nails discovered in a Jerusalem archaeological excavation 20 years ago may have been those used to crucify Jesus, filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici says.The nails, discovered in an excavation of a first century Jewish tomb in 1990, have divided historical opinion. Jacobovici’s view is set out in a documentary that will be aired on television in both the U.S. and Israel[Nails Used to Crucify Jesus May Have Been Found, Filmmaker Says]

The nails were found in the tomb of a Caiaphas family. Caiphas was also the name of the High Priest during the time of the crucifixion. So the assumption is that this Caiphas is that Caiphas and for some reason one of the nails used to crucify a man called Yeshua — whom Caiphas hated — was put in his tomb.

Prof. Robert Cargill of UCLA writes, “no, simcha, you didn’t find the ‘nails of the cross’ of christ (a week before easter)”

  • Simcha claims to have found the tomb of the High Priest Caiaphas, a claim which is uncertain becausearchaeologists aren’t even sure that the tomb is Caiaphas’ tomb.
  • The excavation found two nails in the tomb, one in an ossuary, and one on the ground.
  • The nails disappeared (i.e., someone took or misplaced them).
  • The nails “magically reappear” in a lab in Tel Aviv 20 years later.
  • Because Caiaphas is mentioned in the story of Jesus, and the nails “disappeared” for a time, they must be the nails of Jesus’ crucifixion?????

Dr. James McGrath has a roundup from various scholars on this topic.

The next hoax is a collection of 70 metal books from Jordan

Christian Today reports: If the finding is found to be authentic, it would constitute the earliest known Christian writings. Discovered about five years ago, after a flash flood that exposed two niches inside a cave in remote northern Jordan, these codices have divided Biblical Scholars as to how significant these books maybe. The indication that they are Christian in nature is based on preliminary translation of images and symbols. These symbols contained on the books refer to the Messiah and the crucifixion. [Metal books discovery may have ties to First Century Christianity]

Many media houses went to town with the story, but now these books have been provied to be fake.

Caruso’s new analysis of the text corroborates the recent findings of a Greek archaeologist at Oxford, who said the images appearing in the codices, including one of Christ on the cross, are anachronistic. “The image they are saying is Christ is the sun god Helios from a coin that came from the island of Rhodes. There are also some nonsense inscriptions in Hebrew and Greek,” Peter Thonemann told the press. He believes the codices were forged within the past 50 years.[Exclusive: Early Christian Lead Codices Now Called Fakes]

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Aryans, Early Christians and their Travel Plans

  1. In Robert D. Kaplan’s South Asia’s Geography of Conflict (warning: pdf), there is a section about the history of India. He writes
  2. “Aryans may have infiltrated from the Iranian plateau, and together with the subcontinent’s autochthonous inhabitants were part of a process that consolidated the political organization of the Gangetic Plain in northern India around 1000 B.C.”

    Once upon a time, the Aryan Invasion Theory was considered infallible; now everyone agrees that there was no invasion. AIT morphed into the Aryan Migration Theory, Two Wave Migration theory, trickle down theory etc. Now that too has become: may have happened.

  3. In a blog post, Ajay Makken, MP (Cong) writes about Homeland security
  4. India has been a land where people have mastered fusion, a land, a place where perhaps the first Jews arrived, soon after Jerusalem fell, where perhaps Christians came back as early as 3rd Century and had settlements on shores of India as early as 4th Century, where perhaps the Parsis came in 7thCentury after being driven away from Iran and even now, in the last century we have Bahai’s who were driven from their mother land and who came and sought refuge in India.

    He mentions the date of Christian arrival as 3rd century, discounting the myth of St. Thomas (52 CE). According to Pope Benedict, St. Thomas went only as far as Western India. According to Romila Thapar, there is no historical evidence to the claim that he was martyred in Mylapore. According to her, the first coming of Christians is associated with the migration of Persian Christians led by Thomas Cana around 345 CE.

Hat Tip to Dhruva, Pragmatic Euphony

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Beck's Christianity

One in five Americans believe that the President is a Muslim, even though the President himself has declared that he is a Christian; everyone seems to have forgotten about his infamous pastor. Now adding a twist to this debate, Glenn Beck, the Fox News anchor, has declared that the President may be a Christian, but no one understands his Christianity because he believes in liberation theology.

“You see, it’s all about victims and victimhood; oppressors and the oppressed; reparations, not repentance; collectivism, not individual salvation. I don’t know what that is, other than it’s not Muslim, it’s not Christian. It’s a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ as most Christians know it,” Beck said. [After Washington rally, Glenn Beck assails Obama's religion]

This is funny on many levels. It assumes that there is one generic version of Christianity and  President Obama’s Christianity. It was never true historically nor is it true now. From the time of Paul and the Gnostics, there have been varying interpretations on the life of Jesus. Each group called the other heretic and groups which gained political power, eliminated rival sects.

For instance, the letters of Paul speak often of both the nature of the gospel and whether the good news is meant for only those of the Jewish faith or should be shared with the “Gentiles.” In addition, it is well documented that the Early Church was split between a more orthodox view of Jesus and that of Gnosticism, which denied the humanity of Jesus in favor of a Jesus that only appeared to be human. Read the Gospel of John, for instance, and one comes away with the stark impression that John is very concerned with whether or not God did indeed come “in the flesh.”[Now, It's the Wrong Jesus.]

Now move forward in time and you have Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, each different from the other. Then there are American Christian groups, like the Mormons, of which Beck is a member. According to a Pew Poll only 46% of white evangelicals have a favorable opinion of Mormons and some even think of them as unbelievers.

“The Apostle Paul warns Christians against uniting with unbelievers in spiritual endeavors,” Howse wrote. “While I applaud and agree with many of Glenn Beck’s conservative and constitutional views, that does not give me or any other Bible-believing Christian justification to compromise Biblical truth by spiritually joining Beck.”

“Jesus Christ’s Church has universally rejected Mormonism’s Anti-Trinitarian theology and its claim that mortals may become God,” David Shedlock, a contributor to the evangelical blog Caffeinated Thoughts, wrote in a post this month. “Beck asks Christian leaders to ‘put differences aside,’ but Beck himself daily peppers his broadcasts with Mormon distinctives because he cannot keep his beliefs to himself.” [Some evangelicals on defensive over partnering with Glenn Beck, a Mormon]

Thus when Beck says “Christians” don’t recognize Obama’s Christianity, a large number of “Christians” don’t recognize Beck’s Christianity either. For many of them he is a heretic.

In the final review, “Christian” is a self-defined attribute. It doesn’t make any sense for anyone to declare or decry anyone else’s identification as a Christian. If someone says they are, then they are. If they say they aren’t — even if they’ve been baptized and attend services regularly and participate in all the rituals — then they aren’t. This isn’t something that another person can add to or take away from anyone else. This is what “Freedom of Religion” ultimately means.[Nomenclature]

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