Saturday, December 12, 2015

Were the Wise men from the east Nabateans?

image Stellar House Publishing
It is a bit like a detective story challenge - who were the Wise men from the East?  Gospel of Matthew gives their identity vaguely but the story contains a few interesting clues that may reflect their background.


CLUE 1
Magi from the east
Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου τοῦ βασιλέως, ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem
Matthew 2:1
The Gospel uses in this context a unique Greek word that does not appear elsewhere in the Scriptures μάγοι, magoi, and adds ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν apo anatolon. Both Greek expressions have found their way to many languages and developed meanings such as magic, magician, Anatolia and so on. The word magoi is borrowed to Greek language from ancient Persian and was used there for respected men in the know of stars, sciences, healing powers - wise men indeed..

Popularly the Wise men in Matthew 2 are taught to refer to persons from the regions of modern day Iran or Iraq. They are naturally linked to Astrology as they saw and understood the significance of the star of the birth of the Great King in the west. They are depicted in art riding camels. Although Matthew makes no such mention the ship of the desert was the only animal that could cross the over 1000 km trip from Irak or even more from Iran.


CLUE 2
The visit to Herod's palace in Jerusalem
The Wise men are important enough for King Herod the Great (74/73 BC – 4 BC) to invite them to his palace that was located near the area where the Old City Jaffa Gate stands today. (The gate is so called because from there began the main road from Jerusalem to the harbor city Jaffa on the eastern shore of Mediterranean.)


CLUE 3
The gifts
Interestingly, while telling about how the Wise men worshiped the child Matthew describes in great detail the gifts they brought to him.
καὶ ἐλθόντες εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν εἶδον τὸ παιδίον μετὰ Μαρίας τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ, καὶ πεσόντες προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ, καὶ ἀνοίξαντες τοὺς θησαυροὺς αὐτῶν προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ δῶρα, χρυσὸν καὶ λίβανον καὶ σμύρναν.

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.
Matthew 2:11
Because there are three different kinds of gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh, Church traditions have it that there were three Wise men. As each gift is of great value they must have been kings. So we get traditions about the Three Kings
  • Melchior - Persian scholar
  • Caspar - Indian scholar
  • Balthazar - Babylonian scholar


Nabateans
The problem is that Gospels do not mention the Nabatean Kingdom and it is otherwise also known mainly to history buffs. It has a short history from 169 BC to 106 AD when Emperor Trajan conquered it and called the region Arabia Petrea. Its area covered the mostly desert regions from borders of Euphrates to the Red Sea. The capital was the amazing rock city Petra, Old Testament Sela.

King Aretas whose etnarch apostle Paul had to escape from Damascus is Aretas IV Philopatres (9 BC -  40 AD). His daughter princess Phasaelis was married to the son of Herod the Great, Herod Antipas.

We know about Nabatean rulers and their history from Josephus Antiquities and Wars. Their Arabic language and aspects of their material culture, religious imagery and other things are known from archaeological excavations mostly conducted in Jordan, especially Petra itself, and in northern Negev in Israel.

Nabateans are famous for been able to cultivate the desert, their well-maintained spring system along long routes, their inventing the camel saddle and the trade routes supported by strings of towns. (The Hebrew University has special units trying to solve the secrets of Nabatean desert agriculture).

With the help of the camels and the water well network they built, the Nabateans were able to drive their caravans across the deadly salt deserts in southern Jordan so aptly filmed in Arabian Lawrence (1962).

These advances gave them the Spice Route for bringing incense from Yemen to Petra and from there across Arava valley to Makhtes Ramon via a number of towns. From there the main route continued to Gaza harbor, where Roman ships were waiting for the precious cargo to take it to the capital and to many cities.

In fact, imports from Hadramaut such as  frankincense, myrrh and perhaps also an incense zahav (translated as gold) made the Nabateans wealthy. They were the Arabian oil sheikhs of the classical era.


Were the Wise men from the East Nabateans?
This blog provides you, the Detective, with some clues in the Gospel of Matthew and some information in nutshell about the Nabatean people.

If the question interests you, learning more about this amazing people would be one blessing Gospel of Matthew story can bring to your life!

This goes especially to Arab Christians who may, in fact, belong to the first non-Jewish people to worship the baby born in the little town of Bethlehem. A mighty heritage that should not be ignored!




Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Nativity story fiction?

Since the scientific and technological revolution began in 19th century there has been a strong atheist ground in the work of many important New Testament scholars. Academic purity, validity, proper methodologies and correct interpretations of the texts are evaluated on this deep basis.. It is not always very obvious, though, as the impact of the frozen ground below can have subtle effects on the research.

Atheism in NT studies is not theoretical but practical. The following statements define this philosophy in relation to the Nativity stories in Luke and Matthew

since there is no God who controls the flow of history, past, present and future, the pattern of prophecy-fulfillment is false. The so called prophecies relate to events in the life time of the prophet and there is no organic or real connection to the late interpretation of these texts which are essentially falsifications of the true meaning of the prophetic text.

Matthew and Luke are both driven with the need to demonstrate that Jesus is the promised Messiah King.

Isaiah writes that a virgin gives birth to a boy and gives to this child titles worthy of an Assyrian Great King. The Hebrew betulah, young woman, virgin, is translated parthenos. virgin, in Greek.

According to the atheist view it is simply impossible that a virgin would become pregnant and there is certain vagueness in Isaiah which could be translated young woman (in these days it is not as obvious as in the past that young women are also virgins). Because of this, the stories about Mary's pregnancy must be pious fiction

Luke cooks up an impressive scenery in Nazareth while Matthew just mentions that Mary was pregnant before the consumption of marriage with Joseph.

A sticking point is where the Messiah is born. So Luke cooks up an unhistorical story about Roman census and the going of Joseph and pregnant Mary to the City of David, Bethlehem.

Matthew, on the other hand, knows that Joseph has a house in Bethlehem so no problem there. But how he became known as the Nazarene?  To solve this Matthew invents the story of escape to Egypt and return from there to the city of Nazareth, citing a prophecy in this context too.

In all these modern critical-historical understandings of the Nativity stories the deep underlying ground is atheism. There is no God in charge of events, no angels giving messages, no purpose in what happens - it is all fiction and Early Christianity imagination.

This continues, of course, all the way from the Manger to the Garden Tomb, with the denial of resurrection as there is no God able to raise the dead.

Comments
1. God is.
2- It is truly difficult to identify a Roman period or even a modern writer genius enough to invent something like the Nativity story in the Gospel of Luke.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Star of Bethlehem - Wise men from the East

Early morning in Bethlehem 2015 Venus and Jupiter
Image ML
The Gospel of Matthew tells about wise men from East. None of the other four gospels mentions them.
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. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 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. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Matthew 2:1-12 NIV
Three Kings
The fascinating story has grasped the interest of Christians from early on and many legends and additions have been interwoven into the basic text. The number three is from the presents. The story evolved in early Church and in Medieval times until we got even the names of the Three Kings: Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. May all kings fall down before him (Psalm 72:11).

Astrology
Modern Christianity rejects Astrology which claims that the movements and positions of heavenly bodies have deep impact on the life of humans. There are many good reasons for the criticism when service of the weak elementary forces of this world overshadows the freedom under the sovereignty of God, the Father (Galatians 4:9).

Therefore it is important to remember that the Bible contains many significant texts about stars. Daniel himself is called the head of Babylonian wise men and astrologers. The matter is not all that simple as some ancient star gazers did actually worship Sun, Moon and the five visible planets but also made careful observations that were crucial for keeping festive calendars (Moon in the Bible) tracking time (Sun and Moon) and navigating (stars and constellations).

Astrology is the Astronomy of pre-scientific times.

Sign
Astrological observations were used in Near East as well as in the Greco-Roman world for making decision on favorable conditions and avoiding them if the stars positions were not promising.

Modern astrology is widely known for the way it associates positions of heavenly bodies at the moment of birth. In which House you were born tells what kind of person you are. These horoscopes are immensely popular even among those who do not take foundations Astrology seriously. Kind of Chinese fortune cookies are there typed by by the newspaper reporters for today's events without even looking at a single planet position!

Matthew tells about something else altogether. "We saw his star in the east" expresses the identification of a heavenly object with a Great King. The Star of Bethlehem shows the direction to where this King has been born. This is not normal Astrology, not ancient and not modern, although the birth of Caesar Augustus was apparently associated with a special star.


Background
Wise men are in Greek magoi ex anatole using as loanword the old Persian title magi.

Without going into details, the story of the wise men suggests that somewhere there in the East was among star gazers a living tradition about the Great King. As far as I know, ancient astrological sources from Mesopotamia or Iran do not contain such a tradition. Of course, there is no systematic presentation or complete dictionary of the concepts prevalent in those times.

The final guidance was not given by the special star, whatever it was, but rather by the ancient Jewish Scriptures that predict the birth of the King in the little town of Bethlehem


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Saint Paul and Intelligent Design

"Fesoj - Papilio machaon (by)" by fesoj
Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Romans 1:20 NIV
Modern Intelligent Design movement criticizes the prevalent view often heard from natural scientist that randomness and chance underlie all creation, physical and biological.

The words quoted from Paul's Epistle to the Christians in Rome around 55 or 57 AD are definitely in agreement with the emphasis of ID leaning scientists on the deep order and mathematical genius visible in Nature for all to see.

However, to my mind Saint Paul's words cannot be categorized as ID as there are a number of fundamental differences between his approach and what Intelligent Design people present.
  1. St. Paul does not write in secular terms about some attribute in Nature. Instead, there is an intensively personal God whose enormous power and deep wisdom all people can see in His works and who cares what people think about Him.
  2. Despite of the clear and overwhelming evidence of God's wisdom in Creation humans do not worship Him nor give Him the glory that belongs to Him.  
  3. The epistle is here not about studying Nature in the style of Greek and Roman scientists asking nicely that also God should be added to the picture. Instead. the focus is on the significance to the moral state of humanity and anger of God as humans do not give glory Him for his divine works of Creation.
Intelligent Design gently tries to convince scientific community - and those deciding about school curriculum - that there is no way chaotic systems could automatically create the complexity of Universe and life, Instead of apologetic attempts to convince people, Paul goes on direct attack for the lack of respect towards the God of Israel, Father of Jesus Christ.

Consequently, we suggest that natural scientists continue doing what they do best, study the Nature with all the means available for them (ethical means, that is) and that they - and we all studying their work and benefiting from it - remember to praise God when it is time to do so. It is dangerous to try to mix God with science as if we would be able to do that. But it is also dangerous to attribute the Nature to random chance because it raises the anger of God.

Johann Sebastian Bach marked all his musical works with SDG - sola dei gloria - and we can hear God's blessing and the joy of angels in his masterpieces, even in the secular ones, the flow of musical life.

A natural scientist who in the appropriate context praises God the Creator will experience the same result - by this behavior he pleases God by doing what we humans have been created to do: to give glory to the God in Heaven.

gloria in excelsis deo 
et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis


Friday, November 27, 2015

Cheshire Cat, Einstein and God

"Chester Cat" Galaxy group
Image Credit: X-ray - NASA / CXC / J. Irwin et al. ; Optical - NASA/STScI
NASA/APOD
Smiling mysteriously like the Chester Cat in Alice in Wonderland these galaxies are really far away in the deep space some 4.5 billion light-years from Earth. That is close to the current estimation of the birth of the Solar system. The image combines X-ray and optical image data from the Chandra and Hubble space telescopes.
The arcs are optical images of distant background galaxies lensed by the foreground group's total distribution of gravitational mass dominated by dark matter.

In fact the two large elliptical "eye" galaxies represent the brightest members of their own galaxy groups which are merging. Their relative collisional speed of nearly 1,350 kilometers/second heats gas to millions of degrees producing the X-ray glow shown in purple hues.
NASA/APOD

Gravitational lens
A gravitational lens refers to a distribution of matter (such as a cluster of galaxies) between a distant source and an observer, that is capable of bending the light from the source, as it travels towards the observer.

This effect is known as gravitational lensing and the amount of bending is one of the predictions of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity. (Classical physics also predicts bending of light, but only half that of general relativity's.

Although Orest Chwolson (1924) or Frantisek Klin (1936) are sometimes credited as being the first ones to discuss the effect in print, the effect is more commonly associated with Einstein, who published a more famous article on the subject in 1936.

Fritz Zwicky posited in 1937 that the effect could allow galaxy clusters to act as gravitational lenses.

It was not until 1979 that this effect was confirmed by observation of the so-called "Twin QSO" SBS 0957+561.
Wikipedia

The Twin Quasar
"QSO B0957+0561" by ESA/Hubble & NASA
Licensed under Public Domain via Commons
The Twin Quasar (Twin QSO or Double Quasar or Old Faithful, also known as SBS 0957+561, TXS 0957+561, Q0957+561 or QSO 0957+561 A/B), was discovered in 1979 and was the first identified gravitationally lensed object. It is a quasar that appears as two images, a result from gravitational lensing caused by the galaxy YGKOW G1 that is located in the line of sight between Earth and the quasar. Wikipedia


Einstein and God
No - I am not going to argue here about Albert Einstein's Jewish heritage or his relationship with the God of Israel. The point I am emphasizing has nothing to do with Einstein's personal views on science and religion.

The theological significance of gravitational lensing is in the way the phenomenon was discovered. So many things in Creation have been found by careful observation, logical theory formation, testing and double-checking the observation.  But not in this case. Einstein figured out gravitational lensing by pure mathematical thinking without any experimental evidence at hand.

It is remarkable, that while Einstein suggested the bending of light already in the general theory of relativity in 1915, the conclusive proof that he was right was found 61 years later in 1976. Accordingly, there is a hiatus of more than half a century before such equipment had been engineered that could be used to test experimentally this particular aspect in Einstein's theory. But even with best instruments it was still not a simple matter to find that needle in the haystack, evidence of gravitational lensing among billions of stars and galaxies.
The quasars QSO 0957+561A/B were discovered in early 1979 by an Anglo-American team around Dennis Walsh (1933–2005), Robert Carswell and Ray Weyman, with the aid of the 2.1 m Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona/USA. The team noticed that the two quasars were unusually close to each other, and that their redshift and visible light spectrum were surprisingly similar. They published their suggestion of "the possibility that they are two images of the same object formed by a gravitational lens".
Wikipedia
In the New Testament we have a genuine letter that was written by apostle Paul to the Christians in the capital of Rome in the 50'ies AD.  Paul is inspired by the Holy Spirit while writing and scribbles down on papyrus immortal words about the God of Israel - for there is no other real God. while talking about the fallen state of humanity Paul emphasizes the deep thinking of the Creator which is obvious to all in His works. In modern terms we can express this by saying that Creation reflects the mathematical genius of the Creator.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Romans 1:20 NIV
With his extraordinary brain Einstein figured out in his mind in a radically new way gravity fields and concluded that they also bend light. Because he achieved this feast just by thinking something in his mind must have reflected the deep reality of the Creation.

I do not want to use this "found by thinking" argument as proof that God exists as has been done by many over the centuries. Because true faith in God does not come from intelligent reasoning - it is born from the Word of God and is a gift given to some. However, gravitational lensing has spirituality and even holiness, the nobility and genius of human mind at its sharpest and the sanctity of God of Israel, who has created that mind.

___________
This text was originally published in my Space theology (Astrotheology) blog

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Notes on Nativity stories in the four Gospels


One of world's foremost sopranos sings one of the most beautiful songs ever written

All four Gospels mention the mother of Jesus, Mar but only two of them - Matthew and Luke - tell about events related the birth of Jesus.

MARK
Evangelist Mark begins from the moment when already adult Jesus of Nazareth comes to John the Baptist. Mark has been called :passion of Christ with introduction". It contains no materials about the birth or childhood of Jesus.

JOHN
The Gospel according to John has a magnificent opening which is deeply theological. After these famous Logos paragraphs the narrative focuses on Jesus and John the Baptist. There is no material about the birth or childhood of Jesus.


MATTHEW
Matthew has a number of short but powerful texts that reverberate throughout the Christendom every Christmas.

Matthew focuses first on Joseph, the husband of Mary. Rather surprisingly from  a literary point of view, the Gospel opens with his genealogy from patriarch Abraham to Jacob Ben Matthan, the father of Joseph.

Next Matthew tells about the difficulty Joseph had with Mary who became pregnant while they were only engaged ("plegded to marriage"). The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told what was going on. The angel commanded Joseph to take Mary as his wife. The point of view in the Gospel is decidedly on Joseph. We get the impression that Matthew expects the reader to know about the events from Mary's side and complements the picture in this way.

There is no mention of Nazareth in the story about Joseph and the unexpected pregnancy of Mary. Matthew tells that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea during the time of king Herod (Herod the Great  74/73 – 4 BC).

After the birth of Jesus Magi came from eastern lands (eks anatole) to worship him. This focuses on the wise men and king Herod, who had evil plans in his mind. Joseph is not mentioned, they saw the child and his mother Mary. Because the lavish presents included three things, gold, myrrh and frankincense, church traditions have it that the visitors were three kings.

Joseph sees the angel of Lord another time at night and is told to escape from Bethlehem. The holy family travels to Egypt being safe from king Herod's wrath when all two year old and younger boys are murdered in that city. They returns after Herod's death but since the new king is Herod's son Archelaus (23 BC – c. 18 AD) they move to live in Nazareth.

After these narratives about the birth of Jesus the Gospel of Matthew focuses on Jesus and John the Baptist.


LUKE
Luke concentrates largely on Mary, mother of Jesus.

The narratives about the birth of Jesus begin in the Judeaan hills near Jerusalem where Zechariah and Elizabeth were living. While serving in the temple Zechariah is told that he will get a son and must name him John.

Next Luke tells in detail of a very private moment in the city of Nazareth in Galilee that was witnessed only by virgin Mary herself. No other human was present. Accordingly, the only way these intimate details could have reached Luke is that Mary herself has told about it to someone.  Angel Gabriel tells her about the coming pregnancy, about the majesty of this baby boy and that she must be called Jesus.

Mary now visits Elizabeth in Judean hills (traditionally the beautiful valley village of En Karem near Jerusalem). When Elizabeth sees Mary the child in her womb kicks in happiness and the mother is filled with Holy spirit.

Next Luke gives a beautiful and theologically loaded Song of Mary that is a rare example of very early Judaeo-Christian hymns.

After John the Baptist is born Zechariah says a prophecy about him in Holy Spirit.

Luke says that Jesus was born in Bethelhem of Judea, the city of David, during the time of a census ordered by Caesar Augustus (63 BC–14 AD). Everyone had to travel to his original home place to be taxed by the authorities there. Joseph and pregnant Mary came to Bethlehem for this reason, as Joseph had royal blood in the line of king David.

The shepherds (traditionally from the green valleys of Beit Sahour east of Bethlehem at the edge of the Judean Desert) were the first visitors to greet the newborn baby. Interestingly, it has been suggested that the shepherds south of Jerusalem raised lambs for the Passover meals in Jersualem where there could be over 100.000 pilgrims during the feast. The angelic song about whichLuke tells from the shpeherd's field is heard every Christmas all over the world in countless languages.

According to Jewish tradition, Jesus is circumcised on the eight day after birth. Matthew does not mention this ancient crucially important ritual for Jewish boys. It has been suggested that Theophilus to whom Luke addresses the Gospel may have been a high society Sadducee, so this particular detail is important.

Finally, Luke tells about the sacrifice in the Temple that the Law of Moses orders to all firstborn boys. The choice of two pigeons indicates that Joseph was not particularly wealthy.


Harmonizing? 
It is in human nature that we wish to create a single logical and seamless Christmas texts contained in Matthew and Luke. But this is not the correct approach.  Would Holy Spirit want to give us a single narrative without any internal contradictions and other problems He would have done so. A single Gospel would have been enough for that.

Instead, we have four different books, three of which look at the things from similar point of view (synoptics) but differ in many details and the fourth looking at events like an eagle from up in the sky seeing a much larger picture. The four complement each other but also challenge us creating a genuinely human collection of memories with the feeling of genuineness and wonder. 

The Christmas narratives in the Gospels do not call us just to memorize and repeat what is written but they challenge us study, question, doubt and believe growing in us and nourishing us as we grow up mentally and spiritually.

Freedom of expression
Yes, birth of Jesus can be told in many ways .There is great be artistic freedom to express what is felt important and no need to only repeat literally what is written.   These narratives inspire us in powerful way and they are so fresh from Christmas to Christmas.

Especially we enjoy the joy in children's eyes when they here about these wonderful and mysterious events of incarnation.

Please, father and mother, push that pagan santaclaus aside and give priority with your children to  moments by the Bible and the true Christmas story!


Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Bible, Ben Carson and Sarah Palin

Image Alternative Egypt. Guide for the Independent Traveller
Two prominent United States politicians have said things relating to the Bible that are still reverberating throughout the media. Undoubtedly, these statements are in harmony with the religious right wing of the Republican party, a significant group of would be voters. What other motive could there be to say such things?

Ben Carson and the pyramids
Ben Carson is the currently leading Republican candidate in 2016 presidential elections. In 1998 he told in a graduation speech in Andrews University that Israelis built the great pyramids as grain silos under the guidance of Joseph. He still believes so today.
"It’s still my belief, yes,” Carson said, on Wednesday, when CBS News asked him if he still held to this theory. Then, with an almost pitying smile, Carson explained again, as if to a child, that “the pyramids were made in a way that they had hermetically sealed compartments. You wouldn’t need hermetically sealed compartments for a sepulchre. You would need that if you were trying to preserve grain for a long period of time.”
The New Yorker November 5th, 2015


Sarah Palin and the dinosaurs

This photograph of a Creation Museum exhibit, similar to the photograph in National Geographic,
depicts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with a dinosaur.
Image Answers in Genesis.org
The 9th governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, was the Republican Vice President nominee in 2008 elections alongside Arizona Senator John McCain.
After conducting a college band and watching Palin deliver a commencement address to a small group of home-schooled students in June 1997, Wasilla resident Philip Munger said, he asked the young mayor about her religious beliefs.

Palin told him that "dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth at the same time," Munger said. When he asked her about prehistoric fossils and tracks dating back millions of years, Palin said "she had seen pictures of human footprints inside the tracks," recalled Munger, who teaches music at the University of Alaska in Anchorage and has regularly criticized Palin in recent years on his liberal political blog, called Progressive Alaska.
Los Angeles Times 28. Sept 2008

Why such ignorance?
These two US politicians with presidential ambitions, Ben Carson and Sarah Palin, are honestly expressing what they believe. At the same time, by making such statements they hope to increase their popularity among the Christian believers in the Republican electorate. Such tactics indicate that their opinions about biblical matters must be quite widespread among the American public. How come?

The ignorance about the real contents of the Bible and God's creation can only be explained by the lack of proper education. US public and private schools do not give American children proper Bible teaching.  This black hole in "religiously neutral school system" leaves the youth vulnerable to all kinds of religious groups educating them outside the perimeters of the schools operating under Federal and State legislation and teaching programs.

The US national failure of teaching the Bible properly has truly catastrophic spiritual consequences. The tip of the ice berg are statements by well meaning election candidates whose statements cause world wide mockery to the holy name of the God of Israel.

The truth will set you free
Jesus Christ in John 8:32


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Creation and God's wrath in Romans 1

The guilt
The reason given by Paul for God's wrath is surprising in itself and very different from our natural conscience and feeling of justice - bad deeds are the reason why God gets angry at us and punishes us, is that not true?

The prophetic words about sinful humanity in St Paul's letter to the Romans is very surprising. He writes that the reason to God's wrath is essentially not the wickedness and bad deeds of humans but what the very fact that they do not: give glory to the true Creator of the world, God of Israel. Instead, idolatry rules, as Paul could see by his own eyes in Athens, Rome and elsewhere.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
Romans 1:18 - 23
The punishment
Speaking about God's wrath leads our thoughts naturally towards heavenly punishments against sinners such as natural catastrophes, physical illnesses and pandemics, horrors of wars. Isn't this pattern of crime and punishment how divine wrath is understood in religions? Humans try to find ways to guarantee that highest forces are satisfied with us and bless rather than punish.

St Paul writes tough words but there is in them something very different from the natural pattern of crime and punishment underlying much of human religious behavior.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Romans 1:24 - 32
Not very politically correct but definitely powerful words and totally surprising on closer reading.

God's wrath
Curiously, St. Paul sets the reason of human wickedness to God's respond to not being glorified as the Creator.

From our natural religious perspective things are upside down in Romans 1: instead of human wickedness being the cause of God's wrath the reason is idolatry, not recognizing the true God even He is so obvious in His deeds.

In response to human idolatry God Himself

  • gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another
  • gave them over to shameful lusts
  • gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

St Paul sees little hope for flesh, children of Adam and Eve. They will never be able to glorify God as He should be respected in His immensely wise deeds of Creation. According to the Letter to the Romans, something totally radical must happen to human individuals before they sing the glory of God as their Creator wishes and is worthy of.


Friday, October 30, 2015

The Patten-Windsor trap



According to the Scriptures, God Himself expects Christians to be truthful. According to Second Thessalonian 2 He allows false prophets and messages to lead to destruction those who do not accept the gift of loving truth. Do not get Paul wrong, Christians do not possess the truth. But they are supposed to love truth and reject falsehoods as a love affair where truth is very challenging and often difficult to discern.

What I call the Patten-Windsor trap is a typical example of how Christian believers are led astray from the path of righteousness thinking that they are being taught the truth by those whom they trust. It is truly sad to see, how many of God's children have fallen to this dreadful trap being lured by the deceptively simple claim "It is true because the Bible says so".

Patten-Windsor trap has very clear signs that should warn Christian believers that they are listening to suspicious teaching

1. Force: in the background the thick walled concrete bunker: if you do not believe like this you cannot be saved. Accept this teaching or perish as a doubter of the Holy Bible.

2. Alternative reality: as in the case of Jehova's Witness, teaching the original principle of defending the truth of the Scriptures leads the group to increasingly absurd creations of an alternative reality. To be accepted by the correctly believing community the Christian has to put on tinted sunglasses with broken prisms, virtual reality glasses, and to accept the pseudo-scientific reality of false prophets visible through them as the light of truth.

3. One or more of the facts taught by false teachers are not true. Christians should not glide past any false statements they notice but rather to take them seriously as a warning sign that everything is not okay. Like the noble Jews of Berea, they should by themselves study are things as taught. For love of truth is allergic to any false statement about this world or the coming one.

We are not alone. Gracefully Holy Spirit indicates matters that should be checked to those who have open ears and the gift called love of truth.

4. Some claims concerning the authority of the Bible are fundamentally false. In order for the trap to work it must have a healthy dose of truthful statements. They help to convince the unsuspecting listener or reader. For example, the Patten-Windsor trap includes extensive teaching about the Ice Age. However, the writers of the Bible lived in ancient Near East and classical Rome and new absolutely nothing about Ice Ages.


The creationist Patten-Windsor trap is so deadly because once an unsuspecting victim falls into it he or she adopts the falsities with all the might of faith. This twists the view on God's creation into some mockery of truth. But if the one caught by this snare doubts the new truth this uncertainty usually leads psychologically to aggressive defense. Typically the reasoning is ad hominem, and the trapped soul sees in the critic an apostle of Satan trying to falsify true faith and to break the rock solid foundation of inerrant Bible. "You know, God's Holy Spirit cannot lie, so your criticism is from the deep."

The trap discussed here is set in some pages of creationism.org. It is exceptionally notorious as the books (now online) and others like them can be used as "scientific references" in other articles and teaching. Where is the Christian believer who is alert enough to critically evaluate these impressive references. Similar technique of  "encyclopedias" and learned looking reference books is used systematically by Jehova's Witness movement to make their pamphlets and books look reliable and truthful.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Phos to alethinon, Truth and religious beliefs

This text is thankfully written as Phos to alethinon blog has passsed 200.000 page views border in October 2015. The blog was started April 21, 2009 so some time has passed before reaching this number. However, the interest is significant considering the very varied contents of the contributions and the rather obscure name that goes against all good marketing rules. The expression is from the New Testament
῏Ην τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν, ὃ φωτίζει πάντα ἄνθρωπον, ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον.
ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἦν, καὶ ὁ κόσμος δι᾿ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ ὁ κόσμος αὐτὸν οὐκ ἔγνω.

That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
John 1:9-10 KJVA
Phos to alethinon, true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world (kosmos).

________________________________________

Truth and religious beliefs
If I am not mistaken, the light of Truth in Christ is taken by many people as a purely religious illumination of matters of life. The truth is out there to be searched for and some people are satisfied with the little circles of religions and issues of interest to believers. It is not so. The truth of Christ illuminates everything in human life and leaves nothing hidden. Nothing that belongs to human life is outside this penetrating bright and wonderful light.

If I am not mistaken, great number of Christians disregard truth in favor of their personal faith based information about the world.

Jehova's Witnesses movement began towards the end of 19th century from the background of Seventh Day Adventists who are so interested in calculating the return of Jesus and the end of the world. Ellen Gould White (née Harmon; November 26, 1827 – July 16, 1915) has had a strong impact on the Adventists around the world. Truth has not been in the forefront of Adventist revival as Jesus Himself forbids such calculations.

Today, Jehova's Witnesses movement is not anymore considered a Christian sect. It is its own religion with an extensive belief system that conforms to the very specific world view and concepts acceptable to Charles Taze Russell (February 16, 1852 – October 31, 1916).

The most prominent Australian and US creationist organisations today have imitated Jehova's Wittnesses by creating their own "scientific" literature, references, theories and world view based on an unerring Bible. Since old Jewish genealogies indicate that Adam lived about 4000 BC the world must have been created around that including the entire Cosmos. This Bed of Procrustes has created a monstrous pile of lies adopted by many Christians world over as the ultimate truth of revelation. For them this is the truth in Christ, unerring sacred scriptures inspired by the Spirit of God and true regardless of whatever humans have and will observe about God's Creation.

Well, the largest Christian denomination in the world, Roman Catholic church with over a billion members has had its truth police, inquires and truth committees, printing permissions and burning fires against those who are heretics and do not follow the truth in Christ, the Great Tyrant demanding that everyone obeys the Vicar of Christ in Rome. Fortunately, after Vatican II this church has changed and wonder of wonders, Pope himself has apologized to Galileo Galilee. But these are quite recent developments after thousand year of secular and spiritual rule in the world.

The list is long and concerns all Christian denominations and eventually every human whom the Light of Truth of Christ illuminates.

So what can a person do when there are distortions and lies and misunderstandings everywhere, not least among scientific materialists and atheists, who foolishly deny the very existence of God?

Love of truth
Those words look simple but refer to an extraordinarily difficult personal matter to simple school child as well as highly learned professor - me mistaken? Moi... méprenez? erroné? faux? No way, Jose!

Second Thessalonians has very disturbing words about this matter as Apostle Paul implies that God purposely lets His creatures, humans, to err and to be destroyed at the end.
And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:
That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
2 Thessalonians 2:11-12
These words are powerful and scary but they do make one thing clear:

love of truth is a personal gift from God and He expects us to accept that gift and to put it in good use.

If as Christians we notice that we are holding into something that is not true, let us repent ASAP!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Zulu (1964 film)

DVD Release of the movie
1964 Poster

"Zulu is a 1964 epic war film depicting the Battle of Rorke's Drift between the British Army and the Zulus in January 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War. It depicts 150 British soldiers, many of whom were sick and wounded patients in a field hospital, who successfully held off a force of 4,000 Zulu warriors." (wikipedia)

This remarkable movie was the starting point of the illustrious movie career of Michael Caine (born 1933) and pictures of him as Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead of the 24th Regiment of Foot fill the posters. On the other hand, the main star Stainley Baker (1928-1976) did not get similar attention from the critics nor from the viewers for his acting as Lieutenant John Chard in charge of the force located in the missionary center.

Filmed in majestic nature of Natal
Image Torrents


However, neither Caine nor Baker make this film so remarkable. The cinematography does justice to the majestic scenes in Natal beneath the natural Amphitheatre in the Drakensberg Mountains. Nature is not a backdrop but rather a breathtaking fundamental element that largely makes this movie so memorable.


The honest way in which the many different characters among regiment's men are depicted seems bold and realistic with no "American" style idealization of them as war heroes. Together they are a very convincing bunch of men, some less some more prone to killing, some getting literally sick from the bloodshed. Army discipline can be broken - and is broken - but at the end it is the excellent discipline that makes the winning tactics possible.

The tactic is shown without elaboration: these rifle men acted in line formation like the British soldiers in Waterloo against Napoleon and others long ago: several lines standing in depth, men in each line shooting in concert and then bowing down to reload the rifle while the next line aims and shoots on the enemy at close quarters. Nobody run from the very threatening stand and slowly but surely the massive rifle fire wiped out the attackers relying on hand weapons in close up encounter. The short spears and paper thin shields were useless.

The tactic arranging rifle men for such a massive fire was a predecessor to the murderous use of first Maxwell machine guns not much later that devastated so many attacking men and horses in the Mahdi revolt in Sudan.

Zulu (1964)
Image Jonathan Rosenbaum
The most interesting and powerful element of the movie hardly gets a mention in the credit lines - the Zulu people themselves. South Africa was still world's strictest apartheid state in 1964, The colored people are clearly admired by the director Cy Endfield. The opening section from the native village, for example, is a true work of love and much attention is given to their powerful war songs. Historically accurate dresses and weapons, the handsome men and beautiful women, the elders leading the attack against white foreigners, the close ups of battle...

Despite of their loss the Zulu warriors gain viewers respect for their smartness and bravery. The tragedy for them was to face new weapons carrying old ones. We can assume that had the Zulu soldiers used a bit better the many rifles they had captured they would have destroyed the small fort and killed all its defenders in a matter of hours or less.

This close encounter between past and present weaponry is one of the messages this great movie underlines. Similar encounters have happened elsewhere between old and new, for example when Polish officers foolishly sent their bravest cavalry against attacking German tanks in 1938/39.


One thing about this movie made me sad, the unfair mockery of the Swedish missionary Witts and his daughter. Because these are real persons it is in my mind unforgivable blackening of the memory of these very decent Christians  (see Wikipedia for details).. Was this the producers' idea of comic relief?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Nikon 1 J5 - the little big wonder

Detail of a photo taken by Nikon J5 and expensive 18-200 mm superzoom
Image Sept. 22 2015 by ML

Notice the tiny hairs at the edge of the green leaf in this crop from a picture of the flower. Most of them are thinner than human hair and their separation from each other is excellent. Surely the photo must have been taken with a macro lens, camera on a tripod and with remote shutter-release. Quite a bundle to carry along on a trip!

The picture above showing very fine detail on the edge of the green leaf was taken without tripod using the affordable Nikon 1 J5 and the venerable superzoom AF-S DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II. The older generation lens was attached to the camera using a FT-1 mount adapter.  The camera is in this combination like a small addition at the end of the lens and one has to support the lens,rather then the camera when taking photos. Of course, a tripod can be added to the lens but the point here is that no tripod was in use.

Here is the same flower photographed with the ultra-light VR 10-30 mm f/3.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM lens that comes with the camera. The detail is cropped from a 20 MB RAW file as above. Not bad, eh?

Detail of a photo taken by Nikon J5 and Nikkor 1 10-30 mm 3x rzoom
Image Sept. 22 2015 by ML

How this tiny marvel can produce such resolution without tripod support? Firstly, the camera has a glorious 20.8 MP BSI-CMOS sensor capable of taking large RAW images. Second, the high quality zoom lens has a quite effective vibration reduction system that makes macro photography easy. Thirdly, the sophisticated autofocus system includes both contrast and phase detection and it works very well in AF-S mode with older lenses.. Fourthly, automatic ISO setting and fast electronic shutter speeds up to 16.000/s help reduce problems such as the loss of sharpness caused by the movement of delicate flower parts in even slow wind.

There is, of course, much more to this tiny camera yet so versatile and packed with features. The standard 10-30 mm zoom that comes with the camera gives sharp and warmly colored pictures especially notable in human skin tones. Combined with the fast burst mode, up to 20 pictures in a second, the camera is ideal for capturing memorable moments in constantly changing scenes with playing children..

I must confess that after getting this marvel of modern photography technology this summer my respectable bulky DSLR tends to stay home in the cupboard while this little thing comes with me..If for no other reason so just because of the simplicity of transferring images from the camera to Android tablets and phones using the built-in WiFi server and Nikon's smart software.

Nikon 1 J5
Photo by Nikon Co


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Mt 28:18 The Kingdom of God

Christos Pantocrator. God and man.
St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai, Egypt
Image wikipedia 

With a few examples we have established from the Gospels that when Jesus said "I have been given all authority and heaven and earth" He did not promise end to wars, human suffering from sicknesses or natural disasters. On the contrary, these things continue and become even more intensive as the end of time approaches.

The majestic words are therefore for many unbelievers without any real significance and the authority of Jesus Christ is largely ignored from political calculations, economic decision making, administration of populations even in Christian countries. What worth is there to a man who claims to have all power and yet does not put an end to human suffering. History shows even how in His name bloody atrocities have been performed by His followers against non-Christians and other Christians.

Yet there are many reasons to take the words at the end of the Gospel of Matthew very seriously. Here are some of them

1. The words at the end of Matthew are spoken by a man who was publicly executed at the time of Pontius Pilate and his dead body buried in the city of Jerusalem.

2. Mission impossible that has been accomplished: many nations have been made into disciples of Jesus Christ through the message of joy and salvation proclaimed by His followers.

3. Christ will personally be present with His own people every day and every night. The enormous power behind the majestic words on authority lays in the last words of the Gospel according to Matthew
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Matthew 28:20 NIV


King without a kingdom
In about 30 AD, when Jesus of Nazareth first began to preach to the people in the region around Lake Kinneret and then elsewhere His message is given in Mark 1
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Mark 1:14-15
The kingdom of God is near, at hand. Therefore do two things, repent and believe the gospel. But He was a lone man speaking, king without a kingdom.

From this on until the end of the time it is the history of the Kingdom of God, Civitate Dei as St. Augustine called it in Latin,

Today, the passport control stations for this Kingdom are still open but the quota of refugees from this world to eternal life is becoming smaller as the chosen are marching in, generation by generation.

Soon the gates of the Kingdom may close as God in His Day finally resolves a number of problems on the earth.

The home of Jesus disciples is not this world but something in the future when the now hidden Kingdom becomes apparent and the glory and majesty of Jesus Christ the King of the Jews will be seen by all - for better or worse..

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Mt 28:18 Lord Jesus and natural disasters


In the Gospel of Matthew the Man of Galilee makes an extraordinary claim:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."
Matthew 28:18

However, risen Lord Jesus having all authority in heaven and on earth has not removed natural disasters from the world. For example, the tectonic plates of planet Earth continue their movement causing sometimes devastating earthquakes, volcanoes erupt near densely populated cities and the global weather system causes fearsome hurricanes that destroy property and kill and maim humans.

Instead of promising to put an end to natural disasters Christ does the opposite and says in the Gospels that there will be frequent earthquakes.
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
Matthew 24:3-8 NIV
How could you possibly call such an absolute ruler benevolent who does not prevent massive human suffering but talks about more of it on the way?

And so it is in our world. Despite of the victory of Christ and His having all the power in heaven and on earth our daily news report natural disasters from all parts of the world, one deadlier than the other, some causing tsunamis some collapsing large parts of cities like in 18th century Lissabon or 21st century Port de Prince and now in Chile.

In the majestic words at the end of the Gospel of Matthew Lord Jesus did not promise to put an end to natural disasters. The focus of His words is in something else altogether..

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Mt 28:18 Lord Jesus and human diseases


In the Gospel of Matthew the Man of Galilee makes an extraordinary claim:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."
Matthew 28:18

However, risen Lord Jesus having all authority in heaven and on earth has not wiped out human diseases nor has He prevented illness among other living organisms. The dictionaries of various types of illnesses are thick and detailed concerning all parts of the human body and mind. Hospitals, big or small, are built everywhere human live and medical research and profession flourish. 

"The deadliest disease in humans is ischemic heart disease (blood flow obstruction), followed by cerebrovascular disease and lower respiratory infections respectively" (WHO 2012). Fearsome pandemics have wiped out large human populations in the past and threaten to do so in the future, as well. 

In fact, Lord Jesus - almighty Christos Pantocrator - did not promise in the final words of the Gospel of Matthew to wipe out human diseases. His focus in those words was on something else altogether. 


Divine will and illness
In our judgment omnipotent God could have created a bit more perfect world without diseases. His work looks deficient as so many details can go wrong from birth to childhood, adult life and old age causing suffering, pain and often early death. 

Again, as in the case of wars, the easy solution is to deny God and all wondering of His plans and good will towards humanity so praised by the angels in first Christmas in the shepherds field. For if God is capable of creating a human that does not become sick under any conditions why did He not do so? The responsibility of the faults in the system lies ultimately on the Maker. 

In same breath we could then ask why diseases, why suffering, why death? Why God did not create immortal humans? Why we all have to die?

Biblical realism
Holy Scriptures are not Utopian nor do they describe human world in sugary words and beautiful but untruthful words. The life of the Chosen People is filled with suffering and the Torah contains so many references to sickness and how the community must deal with specific cases such as leprosy. Job is hit by all kinds of diseases to test his love of God and sacrifices of thanks are offered in the Temple after recovery from illness. 

Human diseases are integral part of Scriptures and the role of Jesus of Nazareth as a healer among the people of Galilee, Judea and Samaria is pronounced in the Gospels. His disciples continue the healing service in specific cases. The resurrection and the authority given to Jesus did not bring a fundamental change in this world.  

The focus of Jesus' words at the end of the Gospel of Matthew is in something else altogether.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Mt 28:18 Lord Jesus, Fuehrer and Father Stalin

In the Gospel of Matthew the Man of Galilee makes an extraordinary claim:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."
Matthew 28:18

Considering the history of humanity after this pronouncement in about 34 - 35 AD many think that the words are null an void. What kind of ruler is Lord Jesus Christ allowing all this to happen to the people created by God, His Father? Where can we see Christos Pantocrator carrying all the authority in heaven and earth? 

The discrepancy between Jesus' words and the history of the world is such that with a few exceptions the Jewish people are convinced that the man of Galilee was not the promised Messiah King, the Prince of Peace as prophet Isaiah calls Him. Not to speak of many Christians.

In the majestic words at the end of the Gospel of Matthew Lord Jesus does not promise to put an end to wars. On the contrary, the Gospel contains a number of dark visions about future warfare and deadly battles between nations as well as about deep hatred shown by nations against the Jewish people.

The focus of His words is on something else altogether.

History is what it is
The Nature God of Israel has created is savage. Yet we must confess that in the fight for survival, in ecosystems and environments there is power and deep wisdom way beyond our pride, the scientific understanding of natural phenomena and consequently, our ability to solve problems and face challenges with the help of technological advances.

Human history is savage and marked by warfare apparently from the very beginning of homo sapiens sapiens. Not just hunting but fighting our own species, other humans, for a reason or other. The Biblical view on this is surprising - God of Israel is Lord of the Hosts, Adonai Zebaot, and according to Apocalypse of John there has even been a war in heaven! The coming of Christ is depicted there as a massive war against the nations that have gathered at Armageddon.  

One Lord and two lords
Let us look at one example on the way Lord Jesus Christ uses the authority and power of Pantocrator, almighty God, given to him by His Father.

World War One happened. Millions of soldiers and civilians perished in the worst war humanity has seen during its existence. It is a fact that it happened so Lord Jesus allowed it to happen.

Second World War was preceded by the rise to absolute power of two humans, two men of humble origins - Adolf Hitler in Germany and Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union. They were given power to do what they wanted with nobody in their home countries or among other political and military powers able to force them to anything. 

These two lords, dictators and tyrants, turned quickly into dangerous enemies of Christ. In Germany the target was first the People of God to whom the Man of Galilee belongs, and soon the aim was on the Christian church, as well. Many people followed the Beast and joined its version of Christianity mixing nationalism and religion into a poisonous soup. In Soviet Union, the man from Georgia targeted the People of God although Jews had had such a role in the birth and evolution of Communism. His atheistic onslaught on Russian Orthodox Church was devastating.

So this happened and it is the sole responsibility of the one having all authority in heaven and earth that it was allowed to happen.

The end
Lord Jesus did not stand idle during World War Two and His angels had a particularly busy time on all fronts from Europe to Pacific.

On the decisive level Lord Jesus made a remarkable move - the two lords were in many ways friends and it has been said that Hitler was the only world leader he fully trusted. 

Fuehrer attacked Father Stalin's empire with great ferocity with the aim of conquering what Napoleon had failed to conquer in the East. 

The two most dangerous enemies of Lord Christ and His people fought each other to death causing unimaginable misery to each other, to the Germans and its allies as well as to the Soviets and its allies. 

Hitler's 1000 year kingdom lasted less than 10 years. Unlike Hitler, Stalin survived the war but was quietly put into sleep 5th of March, 1953 by his own trusted friends. "American historian Jonathan Brent and Russia's Presidential Commission for the Rehabilitation of Repressed Persons executive secretary Vladimir Naumov published a book proposing that Beria, with the complicity of Khrushchev, slipped warfarin into Stalin's wine on the night of his death" (wikipedia)


2015 refugee crisis
Ths is history. Today Levant is in fire and refugees drown on boats trying to reach safety. Where is Lord Jesus?

Yes. That is a good question, look for Him.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Vivaldi Farnace Hungarian State Opera June 2015

Budapest Opera House
Image Wikimedia




Budapest Opera House is deservedly famous for its exceptional acoustics which made Vivaldi's music played with period instruments audible all the way to the gender chords of the cembalo. Conductor and flautist Pál Németh made the Baroque orchestra play finest nuances, crescendos and diminuendos, powerful horn sections and delicate cembalo accompaniment and the Opera House hall was filled with most enjoyable sounds and harmonies. We sitting in the audience felt satisfied, "this is what Antonio Vivaldi intended!"

The feared monotony and boredom of lengthy Baroque Opera with endless recitatives and ABA repetitions was wiped out from the first moment the wonderful overture began and what may have been left disappeared with the red laser light spots playing around and on Tamiri (Meláth Andrea) walking in front of the curtain. During the entire evening the choreography, staging, expressive costumes and overall sense of humor kept the audience awake if Vivaldi had a bit too many notes in his scales.
International star Xavier Sabata made the evening as King Farnace with his amazingly rich and beautiful counter tenor voice. I noticed that the intensively delicate aria on the presumed death of his son made many eyes wet in the audience. The Hungarian singers did very well in his inspiring companion, though, with seductive Selinda (Schöck Atala) often stealing the limelight with both her singing and acting, Although Vivaldi composed fairly similar music to each main character, both the strongly profiled interpretations and the imaginative costumes created very distinctive roles.
The main star of the wonderful evening was, however, the red haired priest. Because Farnace is a rarely heard opera - at least I have never heard any of it before - the music and singing is completely fresh and original. Some of the arias are truly amazing like the lament of Farnace mentioned above and there are surprising musical pearls in the flow of music "in rivers that find their grave in the ocean". The soprano coloratura aria by Gilade (Ducza Nora) came as a total surprise from the gods or the stars and was worthy of Mozart. Towards the end of the opera the maestro demonstrated his composing skills by giving a loving duet after all those solo arias. Nicely three singers were set to stand by each other to emphasize the oddity of a wonderful trio and the opera ends with a masterly and controlled choir peace celebrating the happy ending.
After hearing and seeing Farnace in Budapest Opera House I predict that other Vivaldi operas will be performed on world stages. But there is a caveat - it takes extraordinary talent, musical understanding and sensibility, courage of staging the sets in both interesting and appropriate ways to make these Baroque pieces alive for modern audiences. I doubt that there are many opera houses capable of the feast in the way Hungary State Opera made Farnace an unforgettable experience.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Tinkering with evolution mechanisms - the chicken beak

Modfied chicken head. Artist's view
Image BBC Earth
Science reporter Melissa Hogenboom published a fascinating article in BBC Earth describing genetic tinkering that apparently reverses steps in the biological evolution of birds.
"I wanted to know what the beak was skeletally, functionally and when this major transformation occurred from a normal vertebrate snout to the very unique structures used in birds."

To begin to understand this, the team trawled though changes in the ways genes are expressed in the embryos of chickens and several other animals. They looked at the embryos of mice, emus, alligators, lizards and turtles, representing many of the major animal groups.

They found that birds have a unique cluster of genes related to facial development, which the non-beaked creatures lacked.

When they silenced these genes, the beak structure reverted back to its ancestral state. So too did the palatal bone in the roof of the mouth.
Bhart-Anjan Bhullar of Yale University in New Haven
Read the entire BBC Earth article from here.


On the right track
If additional studies confirm the identification of the "beak genes" and that silencing them brings forth earlier stages in the evolution of bird beaks this is, of course, major indicator that human understanding of evolutionary biology as written in the DNA book of life is on the right track.

That is where the changes take place and become permanent shaping the creature on the basis of existing features into something new and different.


Into Jurassic Park through a different gate
Since this sort of tinkering with genes can have unpredictable results not only to chicken but who knows what Fly comes out from the egg in next round - the research team wisely did not hatch the egg containing the modified embryo.

Michael Crichton (1942 - 2008)
Image Wikimedia

Forbidden or not, human curiosity will sooner or later lead somewhere in the world lead to the awesome hatching and then Michael Crichton may turn out to be an even more important prophet of modern times then currently understood, a Jules Verne of the 21st century.



Thursday, April 30, 2015

John Walton, Adam and Eve

I practically jumped from joy after finding John Walton's BioLogos article

“Natural” and “Supernatural” are Modern Categories, Not Biblical Ones

He writes
Is the text claiming that Adam was formed from dust by the very hand of God, while the rest of us are born from a woman after a nine-month gestation period? Many assume this is the case. But such a view implies that the text asserts a supernatural theory of human origins for which there is no natural explanation or process involved. Again, the text cannot be making such a distinction, because the Israelites did not think in terms of these competing categories.


Alternatively, I suggest that just as Adam is introduced to us as one formed from dust, so we understand that we are all formed from dust, designed to be mortal and frail (Ps. 103:14; 1 Cor. 15:47-48). The text is not trying to tell us how Adam is different, but to tell us how we are all the same. In Genesis we don’t learn that Adam’s creation was supernatural while the rest of us are born through a natural process. We learn that humankind from the very beginning was created with mortal bodies but that God was going to provide an antidote. I address more of the details of this interpretation in my book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve.


If the Bible does not insist that God bypassed scientifically describable processes in the material creation of human beings (since its authors and its intended audience had no such categories), it should not be used to rule out scientific explanations for material human origins (such as evolution). Both the Bible and theology agree that God is pervasively involved in his world no matter what level of scientifically describable cause and effect we can detect. So it is not inconsistent with the biblical text to suggest that God created human beings over a long period of time through processes
...
At the same time, every Christian should affirm that humans are not merely the result of scientifically describable processes. God has made us ontologically distinct beings, regardless of the material processes involved. We are more than dust; and we are more than any phylogenetic ancestor. Furthermore, this ontological uniqueness cannot be simplified to the imposition of a soul or to the assignment as God’s images. Unique human ontology can't be reduced to anthropological components because it concerns the fundamental nature of our being. We are more than what we are made of, and God is responsible for that.
John Walton


What is so special about that?

Two things.

1. Walton turns our attention to the Scriptures and fixes a deep-rooted often invisible misreading of the story about the creation of man and woman in Garden of Eden. This kind of careful insistence of holding on the Biblical foundations of Judeo-Christian tradition is fundamentally important in modern discussions of science/and religion. It is also so sadly forgotten when Christians get sucked into the glorious world of logic and science and forget Logos.

2. Walton faces Nature as God has created it without letting his religious faith obstruct facts as so often happens. God does not need a single lie for the defense of His works, especially not the fanciful falsifications of facts and outright lies that are so widely presented in public discussions by Christians inspired by unerring Scriptures.

Professor Walton takes his place among the children of Adam and Eve and encourages with his example careful and extensive studies of the Bible as well as brave and truthful studies of Natural Sciences, in the case of Adam and Eve Evolutionary Biology, Anthropology and Paleontology.

The light of the truth, phos to alethinon, is a love affair for those Christians who have accepted that free gift from God - love of the truth.

And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
2 Thess. 2:10 KJV

Friday, April 24, 2015

Gallipoli - Tell England

"TellEngland" by Source.
Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

On personal note, Tell England: A Study in a Generation by Ernest Raymond (1888 - 1974) is among the few books on World War I that have left deepest scars and everlasting memories in my soul.

The book follows those jolly British young men on their trip to death on the slopes of Gallipoli and is absolutely unforgettable. Especially when reading is combined with a study of the ANZAC campaign 1915 - 1916.

You can read Tell England online as an eBook in Project Gutenberg

Related to that book there is that Australian veteran song Waltzing Matilda which is among the saddest of its kind I know and sometimes still brings tears to my eyes




Today 100 years have passed since the start of Gallipoli campaign. For good reason they talk about heroism - but those two words "human folly" also come to mind.

May they Rest In Peace - all the over hundred thousand human beings that perished there.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Zubin Mehta takes his audience in Vienna New Year 2015 concert

Zubin Mehta 2015
image Wiener Philharmoniker

"The Vienna Philharmonic New Year's Concert took place under the baton of Zubin Mehta on January 1, 2015, in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein in Vienna. The Philharmonic's Honorary Conductor Zubin Mehta, with whom the orchestra has enjoyed an artistic partnership for over 50 years, conducted the New Year's Concert for the fifth time.

This year's concert was broadcast in over 90 countries around the world and was seen by 50 million television viewers. The program for the New Year's Concert 2015 featured numerous compositions by Johann Strauss Father and Son, Eduard and Josef Strauss as well as works by Franz von Suppé und Hans Christian Lumbye. Five pieces were performed for the first time as part of the New Year's Concert. The program also commemorated 650 years of the University of Vienna and 200 years of the Technical University of Vienna."
Wiener Philharmoniker

The Großer Saal was filled to capacity of 1700 people enjoying the most genuine Wiener Waltz possible. The music loving audience was seated on chairs on the floor and in the balconies surrounding the hall. These locations are significant for what follows.

Towards the end of the concert the Maestro turned his back to the orchestra and began to direct the hand claps of the audience. With very few movements of hand, eyebrows, warning finger now and then - that was all needed to take total control of the audience seated in different parts of the hall. By varying the volume and section of the hall participating in the rhythmic clapping he was actually composing on the spot addition to the piece the orchestra was playing. It was all fun, very musical and the audience just loved it.

At least I have never seen anything like it before - a conductor accurately controlling almost 2000 people with minimal movements and gestures creating a joint musical experience that surely must be unforgettable to those present in this fine concert.

.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The black stone of Elagabal

"Elagabalus Aureus Sol Invictus" by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.
 http://www.cngcoins.com. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The reverse of the imperial coin depicts horses pulling a wagon on which there is the sacred black stone from the temple of god Elagabalus in Emesa, modern Homs in Syria.

The stone was associated in Rome with the cult of Sol Invictus by Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (c. 203 – March 11, 222).  After his death he is commonly known as Caesar Elagabalus according to this his favorite god.
The name is the Latinized form of the Syrian Ilāh hag-Gabal, which derives from Ilāh"god" and gabal "mountain" (compare Arabic: جبل‎ jabal), resulting in "the God of the Mountain" the Emesene manifestation of the deity.
Lenormant, Francois (1881). "Sol Elagabalus". Revue de l'Histoire des Religions 3: 310.

An excellent Wikipedia article tells about this stone and the cult of Elagabalus:
The cult statue was brought to Rome by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, who before his accession was the hereditary high priest at Emesa and is commonly called Elagabalus after the deity. The Syrian deity was assimilated with the Roman sun god known as Sol Invictus ("the Undefeated Sun").
A temple called the Elagabalium was built on the east face of the Palatine Hill, to house the holy stone of the Emesa temple, a black conical meteorite. Herodian writes of that stone:
"This stone is worshipped as though it were sent from heaven; on it there are some small projecting pieces and markings that are pointed out, which the people would like to believe are a rough picture of the sun, because this is how they see them."
Herodian Roman History V,3

Herodian also relates that Elagabalus forced senators to watch while he danced around his deity's altar to the sound of drums and cymbals, and at each summer solstice celebrated a great festival, popular with the masses because of food distributions, during which he placed the holy stone on a chariot adorned with gold and jewels, which he paraded through the city:
"A six horse chariot carried the divinity, the horses huge and flawlessly white, with expensive gold fittings and rich ornaments. No one held the reins, and no one rode in the chariot; the vehicle was escorted as if the god himself were the charioteer. Elagabalus ran backward in front of the chariot, facing the god and holding the horses reins. He made the whole journey in this reverse fashion, looking up into the face of his god."
Herodian Roman History V,3

Herodian's description strongly suggests that the Emesene cult was inspired by the Babylonian Akitu-festival.


Syncretism

"Bronze-Uranius Antoninus-Elagabal stone-SGI 4414".
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
The coin by Syrian ruler Uranius shows the Elagabal stone inside the Emesa temple. His identity is not completely clear to historians of 3rd century Rome.

The Emperor also tried to bring about a union of Roman and Syrian religion under the supremacy of his deity, which he placed even above Jupiter, and to which he assigned either Astarte, Minerva or Urania, or some combination of the three, as wife.

The most sacred relics from the Roman religion were transferred from their respective shrines to the Elagabalium, including "the emblem of the Great Mother, the fire of Vesta, the Palladium, the shields of the Salii, and all that the Romans held sacred."

He reportedly also declared that Jews, Samaritans and Christians must transfer their rites to his temple so that it "might include the mysteries of every form of worship."
Wikipedia

Meteorite
A 1996 study of the Elagabal stone by Pierre M. Bellamare was published in  SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS). Titled "Meteorite sparks a cult" it identifies the stone as a meteorite.
The exact origin of the Elagabalus stone remains obscure, but in historical times its destiny was closely interwined with that of a dynasty of king-priests who had been nomads, Beduins of the desert, before settling down in Emesa to erect a shire to Elagabalus. Eventually, the cult became famous and popular, so much that Elagabalus ended up being the chief deity of the Roman Empire under the title "deus invictus Sol Elagabalus," albeit for a short period of time, between A.D. 218 and 222.
Bellamare 1996 p. 287 
Because of its apparently huge size the meteorite would be of great interest to modern astronomers. But it is possible that six horses shown in the golden coin were needed to carry not only the stone but the structures emphasizing its holiness. Similarly, the stone shown in the Uranius is hardly in scale with the temple depicted but rather a detailed image of how it looked.

Huge meteorites do not usually survive intact in Earth's atmosphere and after the impact on Earth. But the largest known stone from the sky, the Huba.meteorite in Namibia, is a single piece and weights an estimated 60 tons.

In comparison of size, the Black stone in Mecca, al-hajar al-aswed,  is 28 cm wide and 38 cm  high.


What happened to the stone?
Life of Elagabalus in the Augustan history of uncertain date (4th century?) tells that after the murder of the Emperor in 222, his religious edicts were reversed and the cult of Elagabalus returned to Emesa.

It is possible, as P.M. Bellamare suggests, that the stone was broken by Byzantine Christians. But this is speculation in the lack of any historical or archaeological evidence about the later fate of the black stone
As for the black stone, it was quietly shipped back to Syria and reinstalled in the temple of Emesa. It was probably smashed to pieces when the temple was converted into a Christian church, some time in the 4th century. The site, now occupied by a mosque, has never been excavated. All that remians of the mysterious black stone are ancient texts and a collection of iconographic documents, mostly coins.
Bellamare 1996, p. 288
It might have been smashed into pieces. Or sensing the danger priests of Elagabalus could have moved it somewhere to safety before Christians took over the ancient holy site of the temple.