Monday, September 24, 2012

JUDAISM'S FEASTS & FESTIVALS - YOM KIPPUR

Moses (Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments)
Returns to find the People Worshipping the Golden Calf
Hello My Friend and Welcome.

Ten days ago we put up a post about the Jewish New Year, Rosh HaShanah. Now, ten days later, we are back to visit Highest Holyday of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur or The Day of Atonement begins at sundown Spetember, 24th.


FORGIVENESS OF SIN
Yom Kippur commemorates the day when God forgave the Jewish people in the desert for the sin of the Golden Calf. Forty days after hearing God say at Mount Sinai: “You shall not have the gods of others in My presence; you shall not make for yourself a graven image,” the Jews committed the cardinal sin of idolatry. Moses spent nearly three months on top of the mountain pleading with God on their behalf, and on the tenth of Tishri it was finally granted. For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before God.” (Leviticus 16:30)

That date has been kept sacred ever after and became known as the Day of Atonement. While this is the most solemn day of the year, underlying it is a joyful confidence that God will forgive the people’s sins. From several minutes before sunset on Tishri 9 until after nightfall on Tishri 10 the people afflict their souls by abstaining from food and drink, they do not wash or anoint their bodies, do not wear leather footwear, and abstain from spousal intimacy. Instead of focusing on the physical, Jews spend much of the day in the synagogue, engaged in repentance and prayer.
The Yom Kippur Service in a Modern Synagogue
PREPARING FOR THE TIME OF ATONEMENT
On the day prior to Yom Kippur, the people eat and drink in abundance. Two festive meals are eaten, one early in the day, and one just prior to the onset of Yom Kippur fast. Another special observance of the day includes requesting and receiving honey cake. This is done to acknowledge that all we have comes from God. It also gives testimony to the prayerful hope that the following year be a sweet one. Jews also ask forgiveness from anyone they may have wronged during the past year, make extra charitable donations, and ceremonially bless their children. Before sunset, women and girls light holiday candles, and everyone makes their way to the synagogue for the Kol Nidrei services.

RITUAL PRAYERS AND READINGS
There are five prayer services held in the course of Yom Kippur: Maariv, with its solemn Kol Nidrei service, on the eve of Yom Kippur; Shacharit, the morning prayer, Musaf, which includes a detailed account of the Yom Kippur Temple service, Minchah, which includes the reading of the Book of Jonah. They say the Al Chet confession of sins eight times in the course of Yom Kippur, and recite Psalms every available moment. This is in compliance to the command, “In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and you shall not do any work...For on that day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the Lord.  (Leviticus 16:29-30)

Most of the holiday is spent in the synagogue, in prayer. In Orthodox synagogues, services begin early in the morning (8 or 9 AM) and continue until about 3 PM. People then usually go home for an afternoon nap and return around 5 or 6 PM for the afternoon and evening services, which continue until nightfall. It is customary to wear white on Yom Kippur, which symbolizes purity and calls to mind the promise that our sins shall be made as white as snow (Is. 1:18). Some people wear a kittel, the white robe in which the dead are buried.

There are many additions to the regular liturgy. Perhaps the most important addition is the confession of the sins of the community, which is inserted into the Shemoneh Esrei (Amidah) prayer. It is important to note that all sins are confessed in the plural (we have done this, we have done that), emphasizing communal responsibility for transgressions.
Many in Israel go to the Wailing Wall, The Remaining
Western Wall of the Jerusalem Temple, to Pray During Yom Kippur
CONFESSION OF SINS
There are two basic parts of this confession. The Ashamnu contains a shorter, more general list (we have been treasonable, we have been aggressive, we have been slanderous...), the the Al Cheit is a longer and more specific list (for the sin we sinned before you forcibly or willingly, and for the sin we sinned before you by acting callously...) Frequent petitions for forgiveness are interspersed in these prayers. There's also a general confession reminiscent of the Catholic prayer, “…forgive our sins of omission and commission.” The Jewish form is, “Forgive us the breach of positive commands and negative commands, whether or not they involve an act, whether or not they are known to us.”

It is interesting to note that these confessions do not specifically address the kinds of ritual sins that some people might imagine. For instance, there is no “for the sin we have sinned before you by eating pork, and for the sin we have sinned against you by driving on Shabbat,”…though these are obviously included in the general confession. The vast majority of the sins enumerated involve mistreatment of other people, most of them by speech (offensive speech, scoffing, slander, tale-bearing, and swearing falsely, to name a few). These all come into the category of sin known as lashon ha-ra (the evil tongue), which is considered a very serious sin in Judaism.

The concluding service of Yom Kippur, known as Ne'ilah, is unique to the day. It usually runs about an hour. The ark, or cabinet where the scrolls of the Torah are kept, is left open throughout this service. Thus everyone is required to stand throughout the readings, unless physically unable to. There is a tone of desperation in the prayers of this service. The service is sometimes referred to as the closing of the gates. That is, it's the last chance to get in a good word before the holiday ends. The service ends with a very long blast of the Shofar, the tekiah gedolah

LOOKING AHEAD
The weeks following Rosh HaShanah are a time of feasts and festivals. The next comes just five days after Yom Kippur…the feast of Sukkoth, literally the feast of booths. One of three so-called pilgrim feasts during which the people left their homes and journeyed to Jerusalem, it was also called the Feast of Tabernacles or the Festival of Ingathering. Jesus, being an observant Jew, traveled to Jerusalem each year to observe this feast. One such instance is noted in John’s Gospel. “After this Jesus went about in Galilee; he would not go about in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill him. Now the Jews' feast of Tabernacles was at hand...” (John 7:1-2) “About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught.” (John 7:7:14)

Until NEXT TIME, we wish you Peace and Blessings.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

ROSH HASHANAH

Sounding the Shofar at Rosh HaShanah

Hello My Friend and Welcome.

Judaism, like Christianity, has its calendar of Feasts and Festivals. And again, like Christianity, the liturgical year that governs them does not follow the secular calendar.

FROM ADAM TO THE PRESENT DAY
The term Rosh HaShanah, meaning the head of the year, is not found in the Bible. The Torah refers to the holiday as Yom Ha-Zikkaron (the day of remembrance) or Yom Teruah (the day of the sounding of the Shofar). The holiday is instituted in Leviticus 23:24-25. In Ezekiel 40:1 there is a general reference to the time of Yom Kippur as the "beginning of the year", but it does not specifically refer to the holiday of Rosh HaShanah.

The Jewish ecclesiastical calendar for the year 5773 begins the first day of the month of Tishri. This corresponds to our Gregorian date of September 17th, 2011. However, since each new day by Jewish reckoning begins at sundown, it actually starts at sundown, September 15th. Tradition says that Tishri 1 represents either the creation of the world or the creation of man. In the second case, the creation of the world occurred five days earlier on the 25th of Elul. Either way, the time from Adam to the present time is calculated to be 5,773 years.

HONORING THE HOLYDAY
For the Jew, no work is permitted on Rosh HaShanah. Much of the day is spent in synagogue, where the regular daily liturgy is somewhat expanded. In fact, there is a special prayer book called the machzor used for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur because of the extensive liturgical changes for these holydays.

One of the most important observances of this holiday is hearing the sounding of the Shofar in the synagogue. A total of 100 notes are sounded each day. There are four different types of Shofar notes: tekiah, a 3 second sustained note; shevarim, three 1-second notes rising in tone, teruah, a series of short, staccato notes extending over a period of about 3 seconds; and tekiah gedolah (literally, big tekiah), the final blast in a set, which lasts 10 seconds minimum. The Shofar is not blown if the holiday falls on Shabbat.

The common greeting at this time is L'shanah tovah (for a good year). This is a shortening of L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem (or to women, L'shanah tovah tikatevi v'taihatemi), which means "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year." A term that references the coming of Yom Kippur.

BEGINNING THE HIGH HOLYDAYS
The celebration of Rosh HaShanah, which lasts either one or two days, has similarities and differences to our celebration of New Year’s Day. Although the Jews gather and celebrate, their celebration is not the all-out party we sometimes see in America. There are no midnight bashes, no Rose Parade floats, no memorial bowl games, and no ball drops in Times Square. Though in one way we are very alike; the Jews, like many Americans, make it a time of introspection, looking back on the mistakes of the past year and planning changes for the year to come.

Rosh HaShanah ushers in what are known as the High Holy Days. This ten-day period begins on Rosh HaShanah and concludes on Yom Kippor, the Day of Atonement. The belief is that this is a time of judgment for each Jewish person. The righteous have their names recorded in the Book of Life. The wicked have their names expunged, and the middle-of-the-roaders have this time in which to repent and join the righteous.

KEEPING MORE THAN ONE YEAR
Those familiar with the Hebrew Bible may notice an apparent contradiction between Rosh HaShanah, which occurs on the first day of the seventh month and the first month of the Jewish calendar Nissan, which occurs in March and April.

Judaism has several different years. At first glance this may seem strange, but it’s no different than  the American calendar New Year starting in January, while the new school year starts in September, and many businesses have fiscal years that start at various times throughout the year. In Judaism, Nissan 1 is the new year for the purpose of counting the reign of kings and months on the calendar. Elul 1 in August is the new year for the tithing of animals. Shevat 15 in February is the new year for trees which determines when first fruits can be eaten, etc., and Tishri 1, Rosh HaShanah is when the year number is increased and Sabbatical and Jubilee years begin.
The Traditional meal Begins with Apples and Honey

TRADITIONAL FOODS
All holidays, secular and religious, have certain foods associated with them. If you don’t believe this, try serving something other than turkey on Thanksgiving and see what happens. The Rosh HaShanah meal traditionally begins with apples served with honey to give the New Year a sweet start. This is a late medieval Ashkenazi addition that is now almost universally accepted.

The Ashkenazi are Jews whose history can be traced to the medieval Jewish communities along the Rhine in Germany from Alsace in the south to the Rhineland in the north. Ashkenaz is the medieval Hebrew name for this region, and thus for Germany. They later migrated, forming communities in non German-speaking areas throughout Europe and the United States. Although they composed only 3 percent of the world's Jewish population in the 11th century, at their peak in 1931, Ashkenazi Jews accounted for 92 percent of the world's Jews.

The Usual Oblong Shape of a Braided Loaf of Challah Bread
Several other traditional foods eaten during this holiday are honey cake, braised brisket of beef, and Challah. The C is silent so this rich, braided, egg bread is pronounced Hallah. Raisins, or other bits of fruit, are typically added to the Rosh HaShanah bread. It can also be formed from multiple types of dough for added variety. Rather than appearing in its typical oblong braid, the holiday Challah comes to the table formed into a round braid representing the crown of God.

The very simplest way to make a round Challah loaf is to take a round baking pan, such as a cake pan, and put about a dozen equally sized balls of dough in it. When the dough rises, it takes on the semblance of a woven loaf. You can also actually weave, or braid, the dough in increasingly complex forms. The video below offers three options; the simple circular spiral, a four-strand braid, and a cut bird applied to the Challah crown. Click Here for Video

Until next time, we wish you Peace and Blessings

Friday, August 24, 2012

THREE VIEWS OF ST. JOSEPH

A Young St. Joseph with the boy Jesus

Hello My Friend and Welcome.

Though we know little about him, St. Joseph, the husband of Mary and foster-father of Jesus, played a critical role in the Holy Family. Most of our information concerning St. Joseph comes from the birth narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. There are also several apocryphal accounts and legends regarding both Joseph and Mary that may, or may not, provide further illumination.
 
THE FINER DETAILS
Both Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 refer to Joseph as a tekton, a craftsman. Tradition has settled on his craft being wood working, thereby making him a carpenter. Whether he performed general work such as making yokes for oxen, plows and so on, worked mainly in the construction trade, or did fine woodwork such as carvings and finish details, can never be known. We know Joseph was a man of humble means since he presented the sacrifice of two turtledoves or a pair of pigeons when he took Jesus to the Temple for Mary’s purification. An offering of birds was the standard for those who could not afford a lamb. We also know that he was a holy and observant Jew since the Gospel refers to him as “a righteous man.”
 
DID JESUS HAVE BROTHERS & SISTERS?
Matthew 13:53-56 says, “And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his own country he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?’” The question would appear to have been settled then and there. However, that is not the case. The three major divisions of Christianity have each developed their own viewpoint on this question. Each of these revolves around Mary as much as Joseph.
 
THE PROTESTANT VIEWPOINT
Luther argued that correct interpretation of scripture rests not with the Church but “in the heart of the pious believer.” This has led the majority of Protestants to follow the practice of plain or explicit interpretation of the Bible. This rule says that when the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other; take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, and literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and fundamental truths, indicates otherwise.
 
At first glance, this passage from Matthew appears to be exactly such a situation. However, it comes with certain suppositions, making it problematic. Mary and Joseph are now assumed to be the parents of at least six additional children after the virginal, and miraculous, conception of Jesus. Joseph would also have to have been young enough to father this brood.
 
We know Jesus was the firstborn, and therefore the oldest, because they made an offering of two turtledoves or pigeons at the Temple (Luke 2:22-24) to redeem him as required by Numbers 18:15: “…nevertheless the first-born of man you shall redeem…” This becomes contradictory when one considers that Jesus assigned John with the task of caring for his mother from the cross. Why did he need to do this if he had four younger brothers? Tradition says John moved Mary from Jerusalem to Ephesus to protect her from harm. Wouldn’t her family have been upset by this, and expected her to stay with them rather than John, a non-relative?
 
An Old St. Joseph Holds the Baby Jesus
 
THE ORTHODOX VIEWPOINT
Among other differences, the Eastern Church holds to a doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity. In their traditions, Joseph was a widower with children when they married. So instead of having siblings, Jesus has step-brothers and step-sisters.
 
Making Joseph an older man solves two other issues. First, if he were not searching for a wife in the fullest sense of the word, but rather a caretaker, it becomes more reasonable to view him as “a most chaste spouse”…a term the Church has applied to him from earliest times. Secondly, making him older conforms to the tradition that Joseph had died by the time Jesus began his public ministry. (The last mention of Joseph in the Bible occurs when the 12-year-old boy Jesus is left behind at the Temple and he is not mentioned at the wedding feast in Cana.) The Orthodox view makes Jesus the youngest child in the family. And, since he was Mary’s only child, he would be solely responsible for her care when Joseph died. Were Joseph not dead, her care would have been a moot point.
 
THE CATHOLIC VIEWPOINT
Where the Protestant view tends to a younger Joseph and the Orthodox view to an older, the Catholic view demands neither. While agreeing with the Eastern view on Mary’s perpetual virginity and Joseph’s death prior to Jesus’ public ministry, the Catholic Church believes the Holy Family consisted of three persons: Joseph, Mary and Jesus.
 
This, of course, necessitates charging John with her care since there was no one else. This still leaves the question of his “brothers” and “sisters.” The Bible provides a list of these brothers. If they were not siblings, who were they? A real and close kinship between Jesus and these brethren is clear. But the term brethren, or brother, can be applied to step-brothers as well as to blood brothers, and in Scripture is often extended to near or even distant relatives, like cousins.
 
Comparing John 19:25 to Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40, we find that Mary of Cleophas, or Clopas, was the sister of Mary the Mother of Jesus. We know she is Clopas’ wife because that is the way a married woman would have been identified. So this Mary is the same Mary who was the mother of James the Less and of Joseph, or Joses. Isn’t James the Lesser named in the list of apostles as the son of Alpheus? Yes, but it is commonly recognized that Clopas and Alpheus are different transcriptions of the same Aramaic word, Halphai.
 
FOLLOWING THESE BRETHREN THROUGH HISTORY
We know nothing of Joses, or Joseph. Jude, however, is the author of the Epistle of Jude. He is identified Judas Jacobi, Jude the brother of James, in the Douay Version of Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13. It was Greek custom for a man to append his brother's name instead of his father's when the brother was better known. In his Epistle, Jude calls himself the brother of James.
 
Simon, like Joseph, remains a bit of a mystery. Many commentators identify him as Symeon, or Simon, who, according to Hegesippus, was a son of Clopas and succeeded James as Bishop of Jerusalem. Others have identified him as the Apostle Simon the Cananean (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18) or Simon the Zealot (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). The grouping of James, Jude (or Thaddeus), and Simon, after the others, but before Judas Iscariot, seems to indicate a connection between them.
 
So two, and possibly three, of these cousins were among Jesus’ Apostles. This seems to be verified in 1 Corinthians 9:5 where Paul writes, “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” The mention of Cephas (Peter) at the end indicates that St. Paul, after speaking of the Apostles in general, calls special attention to the more prominent ones, the brothers (brethren) of the Lord and Cephas.
 
FURTHER ARGUMENTS
Some would object that the brethren of the Lord couldn’t have been Apostles since just months before his death they didn’t believe in him (John 7:3-5). This is based on a misreading of the text. They didn’t doubt his powers, what they misunderstood was his Messianic mission. They wanted him to declare himself a temporal leader. This expectation remained alive among the Apostles even after his resurrection.
 
The final objection to the Catholic position references Matt 1:24-25, “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son...” It can be demonstrated from other examples that the phrase firstborn son doesn’t necessarily imply that there were, or were not, other children. Nor does the phrase knew her not until she had borne a son necessarily imply that he knew her afterwards.
 
Until next time, we wish you Peace and Blessings.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

DID JESUS HAVE LONG HAIR?


Hello My Friend and Welcome.

In the recent post about togas and how they were misused in various works of art depicting Jesus and his disciples, I used a picture portraying him with long, flowing hair. I chose the picture because he was wearing a toga and completely overlooked his hair. After all, aren’t we all accustomed to seeing Jesus with shoulder length hair?

Perhaps we are used to seeing it, but some people still question it. Another question that arises involves how they would have cut their hair. Did they have scissors, or did they just hack away at it with a knife?

Let’s address the second part first. They didn’t have scissors, if by scissors you mean a two- piece device joined at its axis by a screw. They did, however, have shears. There is a picture of a pair of modern shears at the top of this chapter. They’re still used to shear sheep. Clearly, one blade moves across the other just as it does with a scissors. I’ve watched them being used and confess I don’t understand exactly how to make them work. The mystery lies in the exact hand motion that produces the cut. God forbid I should ever be forced to actually use them.

Modern Sheep Shears
The word scissors derives from the Latin word cisoria, meaning a cutting instrument. I would guess that a wide variety of shears existed in the First Century, coarse ones for shearing sheep, and they sheared a lot of sheep because their clothes were mostly wool. Finer ones would have been used for trimming hair, etc.

Egyptian Brass Sheers
To bolster my case, I offer a pair of Egyptian bronze shears from the Third Century BC owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although their decoration is characteristic of the Nile culture, they show a strong Greek influence. The shears illustrate the high degree of craftsmanship which developed in the period following Alexander's conquest of Egypt. Decorative male and female figures, which complement each other on the opposing blades are formed of solid pieces of metal inlaid in the bronze of the shears.

WHAT ABOUT THE LENGTH OF JESUS’ HAIR?
Enough of the easy stuff; now we move on to the first, and more difficult, question: Did Jesus have long hair? If you begin researching the topic, you’ll find a wide range of opinions. There are occasional references to Josephus and Eusebius, but when I checked them out I couldn’t find any useful information in either source. Next, I turned to Alfred Edersheim’s books. A converted Jew, Edersheim wrote extensively in the late 1800’s about Jewish life in ancient times. Nothing there either. I also scanned Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus by the German author, Joachim Jeremias, and came up empty again.

Several people insisted Jesus had to have short hair because the Romans and the Greeks did. Just take a look at their statues. This train of thought ignores the fact that the Maccabean Rebellion in 167 BC was a response to the Hellenizing influence of the Seleucid Empire. They didn’t want to be like the Greeks. First Century Judaic society was also dominated by the Pharisees. Their strict adherence to the laws of the Torah and zeal for a regulated society would have led them to resist the prevailing cultural norms rather than copying them. Judea was known as a particularly difficult region to govern because its people were so unbending and noncompliant.

There were also references to the Nazarite movement which, among its precepts, prohibited the cutting of the hair or consuming alcoholic beverages. I found people confusing Nazarite and Nazerean, meaning someone from Nazareth, and therefore assuming Jesus would have had long hair. John the Baptist is often believed to have been a Nazarite, but Jesus clearly never took the Nazarite vow.

Another surprising insight came to me from the movie Fiddler on the Roof. It depicts Russian Jews living in a society divorced from that of their neighbors. The Jews wear distinctive clothing, the men have beards and their gentile neighbors don’t. Some dress in black coats and have distinctive hair styles similar to modern Hassidic Jews. Again, we see the Jews stubbornly resisting the dominant cultural influences.

But in the end, none of these provides truly convincing. For this we have to turn to Jesus himself…or at least the imprint his body left on his burial cloth. About 25 years ago I read a book written by a physician who had analyzed the Shroud of Turin. I recall him mentioning that the person on the shroud had his hair braided in the back, which was the style at that time. I couldn’t find a clear enough image of the back portion of the shroud to verify this. I did, however, find two other pieces of evidence.

The first comes in the form of an ancient coin minted in the realm of Herod Phillip, the son of Herod the Great and his fifth wife, Cleopatra of Jerusalem. He was a half-brother to Herod Antipas who divorced his wife to marry Herodias, Phillip’s former wife. You’ll recall she’s the one who wanted John the Baptist’s head on a plate.

Coin of Herod Phillip
Phillip had a coin minted with his image on it. Coins from that region and era with images on them are extremely rare because of the Torah’s injunction against graven images. Because Phillip ruled the easternmost region of Herod’s Empire, he didn’t have to worry as much about offending Jewish subjects. Even though the coin is a couple of thousand years old and shows plenty of wear, it still appears to me that Phillip has his hair braided in back.

THE IKON AND THE SHROUD
Be that as it may, my search for shroud-based evidence took me back to the Christ Pantokrator Ikon. The image known as Christ Pantokrator is believed to have been derived from the discovery in 544 AD of a cloth hidden above a gate in Edessa’s city wall that bore an image of Jesus. Six years later, an icon, the Christ Pantokrator, was produced at St Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai. It represented a dramatic change in the way Jesus was portrayed. Previously on coins, frescos and mosaics he had been shown in storybook settings as a young shepherd or modeled after the Greek god Apollo. Suddenly he had become a living, breathing human being.

We can confirm the relationship between the two images by digitally overlaying one on top of the other. I found the results startling. The congruence between the two is unmistakable. Clearly the Christ Pantokrator was derived from the Shroud of Turin in the same way that a forensic sculptor creates the likeness of a living person from their skull. Is it a perfect likeness? No. Hair color and eye color have to be guessed at…although since Jesus was of Middle Eastern descent, that task is made much easier.

Shroud of Turin overlaid on Ikon Christ Pantokrator

My point here is not to claim that Christ Pantokrator is an exact portrait of Jesus. Such a thing is beyond the realm of possibility. But just as with forensic reconstruction, what we arrive at is a generally recognizable likeness. And that likeness indicates the person to whom it belonged had long hair.

Until next time, we wish you Peace and Blessings.

Friday, July 20, 2012

CW BLOG CHAIN - CELEBRATE



Hello My friend and Welcome. 

Today we add our link to the Christian Writer’s Blog Chain. This month’s topic is celebration. This will be my last Blog Chain post for a time. My workload has gotten way out of hand and I’m cutting back anywhere and everywhere I can. Since this is, so to speak, my last turn at bat I hope you’ll indulge me while I wax nostalgic. 

I joined the Blog Chain a little over 24 months ago. I had started the Sowing the Seeds Blog a few months earlier and hadn’t yet found my audience. I felt the publicity of being on several dozen link lists on other blogs would spike my readership. It did. The blog started on an upward trajectory that peaked out at over 12,000 monthly visits by the time I left WordPress and transitioned to Blogger last September.   

So, yes, the CW Blog Chain was good to me. I like to think I added something to it as well. Our modern world offers unimagined opportunities to befriend and interact with those whom we will never meet face-to-face. The kindness of others never ceases to amaze me. Clearly, distance doesn’t matter when people reach out with care. Over the last two years I’ve learned more about the other members and they’ve learned more about me. Adam even treated us to a tour of Tasmania. I reciprocated by showing off Oregon’s South Coast.

A lot has happened in the last two years. People have come and gone; early members have stepped aside and new names took their place. Some of us have released books and/or achieved other writing goals. Throughout, we’ve supported each other’s ambitions, celebrated successes and commiserated over setbacks. I looked back at some of the diverse topics we’ve dealt with. After stepping out of our Comfort Zone, we wondered Where Ideas come from…as if anyone knew. We’ve gave Thanks one November and discussed New Beginnings the following January. We’ve Swirled, Journeyed, went on a Quest and Came Home again.

Though the topics changed, the Blog Chain developed a comforting predictability. I looked forward to Cindee and Keith’s newest piece of poetry, Victor’s viewpoints on various Star Trek episodes, and the thoughtful observations of the rest of the gang.

It’s been a fun ride and I’m going to miss this monthly odyssey.

Until next time, I wish you all Peace and Blessings.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

DID JESUS WEAR A TOGA?

 

Hello My Friend and Welcome. 

Do inaccuracies in fiction bother you as much as they bother me? For the fictive dream to become reality, the reader/viewer must relinquish control to the author, entering their world and experiences.  This entails the tacit agreement that the author will not play fast and loose with facts and emotions.  When non-congruous facts and details enter the narrative, they diminish the author’s credibility and destroy the fictive dream.  

A NAIL SALON ON A DESERT ISLAND?
For example, last night I watched a TV show in which a woman, who was supposedly marooned on a desert island, lost her wedding band. Earlier, she’d had been digging in the sand with her hands and when she returned to the spot her ring was there in the hole. This is when everything went awry. She reached into the hole, picked up the ring and put it back on. In so doing, she held her hand up to the light. Her long, neatly manicured fingernails were clearly visible. This was only the first of many inconsistencies and impossibilities.  

There are several things that could be going on here. A. The writer didn’t know and never bothered to find out, B. The director either didn’t care about accuracy or also didn’t know, or C. They assumed the viewer is too stupid to notice. But at least some of us do.

THE MOST COMMON MISTAKE
One of the most common misrepresentations of ancient dress is the toga. It becomes almost a clichĂ© — ancient times, everyone wears togas. Not true. 

The toga, which most everyone has seen in movies and paintings, began as a simple wool wrap that was thrown on like a cape when going out in cool weather. From there, it grew and grew, becoming longer and longer and less and less practical. This distinctive Roman garment eventually became a twenty feet long piece of woolen cloth which was wrapped around the body over a linen tunic. The first togas were unisex garments, but that all changed around the second century BC. After that, the toga became exclusively a man’s garment and women were expected to wear the stola, a long, loose tunic.

A number of rules evolved regarding togas. For instance, only Roman citizens were allowed to wear them. The toga was considered the only decent attire when out-of-doors. Harkening back to their more humble origins, they were typically taken off indoors. They were also removed when performing physical labor. This is evident from the story of the Roman General, Cincinnatus, who was plowing his field when the messengers of the Senate arrived to tell him he had been made dictator. On seeing them approach, he sent his wife in to fetch his toga from the house so that he could be properly attired to receive them.

EVOLUTION OF THE TOGA
The toga gradually gained increased importance as a ceremonial garment and came to signify different stations within society. As early as the second century BC the toga became the characteristic badge of Roman citizenship. It was worn by magistrates on all occasions as a badge of office. It would have been highly improper for a magistrate to appear in any other attire.  

Augustus grew so upset when he observed a meeting of citizens without togas that he quoted Virgil's phrase, “Romanos, rerum dominos, gentemque togatam” —Romans, lords of the world, the toga-wearing race — when giving the order that no one was to appear in the Forum or Circus without it. 

Formal occasions demanded a plain white toga for Roman men of legal age. The first wearing of this toga virilis, also known as a toga alba or toga pura, became part of a boy’s maturation celebrations. There was also the toga candida a toga bleached to a dazzling white and worn by candidates for public office. Our term, candidate, was derived from the word candida, Latin for bright white; hardly appropriate in today’s political climate. During the Imperial period, the right to a wear the toga praetexta, an ordinary white toga with a broad purple stripe on its border, signified the honor of high rank.  

There was also the toga pulla, or dark toga. It was worn mainly by mourners, but could also be worn in times of private danger or public anxiety. It could also be used as a protest. For instance, when Cicero was exiled, the Senate resolved to wear togae pullae to protest his banishment.

Most elaborate of all was the toga picta a solid purple garment, embroidered with gold. Magistrates giving public games wore them, as did consuls and the emperor on special occasions. 

WHAT ABOUT JESUS?
Many, if not most, of the paintings of Christ and his disciples depict them wearing one form or another of what appears to be a toga. Is this portrayal accurate, possible, reasonable? No, of course not. They were Jews who would have most likely rejected all aspects of the Roman culture. They wore an ankle length tunic accompanied by a long-sleeved robe, or cloak, when needed for warmth.

Of all the apostles, only Paul of Tarsus was a Roman citizen and therefore entitled to wear a toga. He very well may have worn one on his missionary journeys to enhance his credibility in cities such as Athens or Corinth. Whether he did or not, of course, we can never know. What we can know is that, even in Rome, Peter never wore a toga. He was forbidden to by Roman law. 

On Friday we’ll be adding our link to the Christian Writers Blog Chain. Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings. 

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

ROMANS IN THE AMERICAS

Ancient Amphorae at the Bottom of the Sea

Hello My Friend and Welcome.

As a youngster did you learn the rhyme, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue?” Despite what the rhyme taught us, we now know that Columbus was most likely not the first to set foot on the American continents. Believers in pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact propose interaction between indigenous peoples of the Americas who settled the Americas before 10,000 BC, and peoples of other continents (Africa, Asia, Europe, or Oceania), which occurred centuries before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean in 1492.

CLAIMS OF PRE-COLUMBIAN CONTACT
Many such contacts have been proposed, based on historical accounts, archaeological finds, and cultural comparisons. However, claims of such contacts are controversial and much debated, due in part to the ambiguous or circumstantial evidence cited by proponents.
The scientific responses to most claims range from serious consideration in peer-reviewed publications to a quick dismissal. Despite the barrage of negativity, believers continue to press their claims. One of the most famous, Thor Heyerdahl, sailed 3,770 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean on his self-built raft, the Kon-Tiki, from South America to the Tuamotu Islands in 1947. The expedition was designed to demonstrate that ancient people could have made long sea voyages, creating contacts between apparently separate cultures.

IS NEWFOUNDLAND ACTUALLY VINLAND?
Even though journeys to North America are supported by literary, historical and archaeological evidence, only one instance of pre-Columbian European contact – the Norse settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada c. 1000 AD – is accepted by scholars as demonstrated.
In 1961, archaeologists Helge and Anne Ingstad uncovered the remains of a Norse settlement at the L'Anse aux Meadows archaeological site on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland, Canada. A connection is frequently drawn between L'Anse aux Meadows and the Vinland sagas. These are written versions of older oral histories that recount the temporary settlement of an area to the west of Greenland, called Vinland, led by a Norse explorer, Leif Erikson. It is possible that Vinland may have been Newfoundland. Finds on Baffin Island suggest a Norse presence there after L'Anse aux Meadows was abandoned.  

HENRY SINCLAIR’S 14TH CENTURY VOYAGE
But there is other tempting evidence. People claim that carvings in Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland depict Indian corn, or maize. Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney and feudal baron of Roslin (1345 –1400) was a Scottish nobleman. He is remembered because of the legend that he took part in explorations of Greenland and North America almost 100 years before Christopher Columbus. William Sinclair, Henry’s grandson and 1st Earl of Caithness, built the Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh, Scotland in the mid 15th Century. Maize was unknown in Europe at the time and not cultivated there until hundreds of years later. This would seem to prove that Henry Sinclair, travelled to the Americas and returned with ears of corn. Like everything in this field, this conclusion is not without controversy. Others interpret the carvings as stylized depictions of wheat, strawberries or lilies.

MADOC IN THE 12TH CENTURY
 According to British legend, Madoc, a prince from Wales, explored the Americas as early as 1170. While most scholars consider this legend to be untrue, it was used as justification for British claims to the Americas, based on the notion of a Briton arriving before other European nationalities. Local legend holds that Devil's Backbone, a rock formation near Louisville, Kentucky, was used as a citadel by Madoc and his companions. A memorial tablet erected at Fort Morgan in Mobile Bay, Alabama reads: "In memory of Prince Madog, a Welsh explorer, who landed on the shores of Mobile Bay in 1170 and left behind, with the Indians, the Welsh language." The Mandan tribe of North Dakota were said to be Welsh-speaking.

WHAT IF ROMANS ARRIVED 1000 YEARS EARLIER?
Yes, you read that correctly. Perhaps it’s not as preposterous as it sounds at first glance. We know that the Romans traveled to most of modern Europe. They also sailed from North Africa to India and conducted trade with China on what came to be called The Silk Road.



Let’s start with a recent find and work backwards. The photo illustrates what is known as the Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca head. Made of terracotta, it was probably part of a larger figurine. It was discovered in 1933 in the Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca zone in the Toluca Valley, about 40 miles southwest of Mexico City. Because the head appears to be similar in style to artifacts of Roman origin, some believe that it is evidence of pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact between Rome and America.

An assessment of the case in 2001 by Romeo H. Hristov of the University of New Mexico and Santiago GenovĂ©s T. of the National Autonomous University of Mexico made the hypothesis of Roman origin –among other possibilities– applicable. The identification of the head as Roman work from the II-III century A.D. has been further confirmed by Bernard Andreae, a director emeritus of the German Institute of Archaeology in Rome, Italy. According to Andreae, “the head is without doubt Roman, and the lab analysis has confirmed that it is ancient. A stylistic examination tells us more precisely that it is a Roman work from around the II century A.D., and the hairstyle and the shape of the beard presents the typical traits of the Severian Emperor’s period [193-235 A.D.], in the fashion of that epoch.”

Ancient Roman Ship

ANCIENT TRAVELS
Such an event has been made more believable by the discovery of evidences of travels by the Romans, Phoenicians and Berbers as early as the 6th or 5th Century BC to Tenerife and Lanzarote in the Canaries, and of a 1st Century BC Roman settlement on Lanzarote Island. Lanzarote was probably the first Canary Island to be settled and the Phoenicians may have settled there around 1100 BC, though no material evidence survives. The Greek writers and philosophers Herodotus, Plato, and Plutarch described the garden of the Hesperides, a mythic orchard at the far west of the world, which many identify as the Canaries.

A WRITTEN RECORD FROM PLINY
The first known record comes from Pliny the Elder where he describes in his encyclopedia Naturalis Historia, an expedition to the Canary Islands. The names of five islands (then called Insulae Fortunatae, the Fortunate Isles) were recorded as Canaria (Gran Canary), Ninguaria (Tenerife), Junonia Major (La Palma), Plivalia (El Hierro) and Capraria (La Gomera). Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, the two easternmost Canary Islands, were only mentioned as the archipelago of the purple islands. The Egyptian astronomer and geographer Ptolemy calculated their precise locations. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the Canary Islands were ignored for the next 500 years.

COMING TO AMERICA
There is a large submerged rock in Guanabara Bay near Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Lying just three feet beneath the water’s surface, it is called Xareu Rock after the fish that congregate there. In the late 1970’s, a local fisherman using nets around Xareu Rock kept catching some large —3’ tall— heavy earthen jars. He mistakenly assumed they were macumba jars, which are used in voodoo ceremonies and then thrown into the sea. So, as the jars were hauled up, he smashed them with a hammer and tossed the pieces back into the water to prevent them from snagging his nets.

Eventually a scuba diver spear fishing around Xareu Rock found eight of the jars. He took them home and began selling them to tourists. He only had two left by the time Brazilian police stopped him and confiscated the jars. Archaeologists immediately identified them as Roman amphorae from the 1st Century BC.  

Ex-marine, underwater explorer and treasure-hunter Robert Marx claims to have discovered a long-forgotten Roman shipwreck in the Bay of Guanabara. It appears to have hit the rock at a high speed, spilt apart and sank in 75 feet of water. While diving to examine the wreckage, Marx removed parts of the ancient amphorae. They eventually ended up in the hands of Dr. Elizabeth Lyding Will, an expert on Roman amphorae. She says they’re similar in shape to jars produced in kilns at Kouass, on the west coast of Morocco.

The Institute of Archaeology of the University of London performed thermo-luminescence testing, which is a more accurate dating process than Carbon 14 dating, and set the jar’s manufacture date around 19 B.C. Many more amphorae and some marble objects were recovered, as well as a Roman bronze fibula, a clasp device used to fasten a coat or shirt.

From the Salt Mines to Rio de Janeiro

PASS THE SALT, PLEASE
This is where the story gets really interesting, and it all starts with salt. Salt was one of the most valuable commodities around the beginning of the 1st Century. It represented the only reliable way to preserve fresh meat and fish. In fact, salt was so valuable that at times it was used in place of money. The word salary derives from the practice of paying laborers in salt. And from that, came the familiar term he’s not worth his salt.
 
The Romans had a large salt production facility on Ilha do Sal, Salt Island, in the Cape Verde Islands, which are 350 miles off the coast of West Africa. The map illustrates the general path a ship would take to go from there to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil… a trip of about 2900 nautical miles. If that seems prohibitive, consider that Roman ships regularly sailed from Antioch of Syria to Londinium in Britannia, a distance of about 1,600 nautical miles. Trade vessels also left Egypt headed for India and returned laden with spices. This represents a round trip of 4,600 nautical miles. Remember also, Heyerdahl sailed 3,770 nautical miles on a raft!

Rotation of the North Atlantic and South Atlantic Currents

HOT WINDS AND CIRCULAR OCEAN CURRENTS
Salt Island is located directly in the path of the hot, dry winds of the Sahara Desert, which can easily blow 60 knots from the east. It is believed that this Roman merchant vessel was heading for Salt Island to pick up a load of salt and to provision the local army garrison when it was caught in a fierce Sahara storm. Roman ships were clumsy by modem standards and would have no choice but to lower their sails and to run with the winds to avoid capsizing. The Sahara winds can blow continuously for many days. The ship would have been driven south into the Guinea Currents that could have moved it into the circular flow of the North Atlantic current. In the equatorial regions this southern flow intersects with the rising South Atlantic current. Passing from one to the other, the Roman sailors would have found themselves being pushed south and west toward Brazil. They would, of course, have no way of navigating since the southern constellations would have been unfamiliar to them.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS
Was this a one-time event that ended in tragedy? Or, did these early sailors use it as an opportunity to make contacts, in which case the sunken ship was not the first Roman ship to make the voyage. For all we know, they might have been on the first stages of a regular trade run. And, when they didn’t return, this new venture was abandoned.

What about the men aboard? Were there survivors? Did they make their way ashore, make contact with the natives, and live happily ever after? As tantalizing as it may be to speculate on the possibilities, the answers to these and other questions have been lost to history.

 Until next time, we wish you Peace and Blessings.

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