Tuesday, February 27, 2007

James Cameron and the Tomb of Jesus

James Cameron and the folks at the Discovery Channel have collaborated on a 90 minute documentary that claims that the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth was located on the outskirts of Jerusalem in 1980.

In the tomb, supposedly, were the ossuaries of Jesus, his mother Mary, his wife Mary Magdalene and his son Judah (His son Judah? What happened to Sarah?).

How is this possible you ask? Has there been a cover up? Have nefarious, sinister agents of the church been bribing, murdering and kidnapping poor archeologists for the past quarter century in order to keep this devastating secret, a secret which destroys the very fabric of Christianity, hidden?

Nah, the fact of the matter is Cameron is having a bad case of mental gymnastics.

The fact is that the tomb was thoroughly investigated when it was first discovered and the findings painstakingly documented by archeologists from Bar Ilan University. The fact that five of the ten ossuaries had names that could be linked to the New Testament was noticed but considered no more than a mild coincidence since these were VERY common names in Judea during the first century. Read Josephus if you want to get an idea how common the name Jesus was.

So, has new evidence come to light since then? Nope, none whatsoever, what Cameron and the Discovery Channel have done is hire a couple of statisticians who have calculated, on their trusty calculators I assume, that the probability that this is a family other than the family of Jesus of Nazareth ranges from between 1 in 100 to 1 in 1000.

I don’t even know where to begin on this one. Even if I were to see, and accept the calculations, which I haven’t by the way, I don’t think it would result in more than a shrug on my part.

I’m one of the most anti-religious people on the planet. If I’m not impressed by this claim, who would be impressed by it? I get the feeling that this is a lot of nonsense. You’re going to need a lot more than magic with numbers to convince me of this one James.

A Man for All Seasons

I was sick most of the weekend with what I can only describe as a queasy stomach. I’m not sure if it was something I ate on Friday or a virus making itself at home. It was annoying, and left me with little ambition to do much, so I boob tubed a fair amount of the weekend away. The only saving grace was that the Turner Classic Movie (TCM) channel was nearing the climax of its 31 days of Oscar marathon and was airing consecutive Best Picture winners. That gave me the opportunity to catch Paul Schofield in “A Man for All Seasons” Saturday night.

The movie is a fictionalized account of the conflict between Sir Thomas More, lawyer, philosophy and theologian, and Henry VIII in regard to Henry’s desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn.

The movie paints More as an altogether sympathetic character standing up for his principles while, as a loyal subject, trying to avoid an open confrontation with his king. In other words, to a large extent More is trying to have his cake and eat it too. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t work, and eventually his enemies manage to get him convicted of treason through the use of perjured testimony.

Overall More is painted as an honest, courageous man of high principle and I remember taking that impression away from the movie as a conclusion the last time I’d seen it many years ago.

Well, either I’ve gotten smarter or more cynical because, after thinking about it a little bit, that’s not the conclusion I came away with this time. As I observed before, More is sort of trying to have his cake and eat it too. By not openly supporting Henry he’s making it clear that he disapproves, but by being silent he’s trying to avoid the consequences of that disapproval. I’m not sure I would call that courageous and highly principled. Is a man who tries to avoid the consequences of his convictions really acting in a courageous manner? Learn this young Padawan, if you decide to take a stand on principle, first be certain that you understand the potential consequences of that stand and, second, be certain that you are willing to accept those consequences.

I had to ask myself WHY does More refuse to accept the king’s marriage? Ostensibly it’s because the king’s actions deny the authority of the Pope which More, as a staunch Catholic, can’t condone. Typically one gets around this type of impasse by agreeing to disagree. I don’t agree with your actions but I recognize your right to decide what those actions should be. This would probably have been more than enough to satisfy Henry but More couldn’t bring himself to go even that far.

Why? Because he was a man of principle that wouldn’t give an inch on what he felt was wrong? Nope, I don’t think so. I think it was simply that More was more afraid of what would happen to him in what he was sure was the next life, than he was afraid of anything Henry could do to him in this life. More quotes Matthew 16:26, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul,” to the man whose perjury sends him to the headsman’s axe and I think this sort of sums up his whole attitude.

More is afraid to support the king because he thinks that’s going to send him to hell. He’s also afraid to openly criticize the king because he’s afraid that’s going to get him a very short haircut. Therefore he tries to tread a middle ground through the quagmire disapproving of the king’s actions in his own mind, in order to save his place in heaven, while never saying anything to anyone expressing his opinion in order to avoid facing the consequences here on earth. I’d call that more the actions of a slippery weasel than a man that should be held up as an icon of courage and principle.

But he was right to be appalled at Henry’s discarding Catherine for the cute little snippet Anne Boleyn wasn’t he? I mean, Henry must have been a real cad to discard a loving wife for a younger woman right?

WRONG. Henry had a real problem, and the decision to divorce Catherine probably had little or nothing to do with Anne. You see Henry needed a son to continue his dynasty and avoid a resumption of the civil strife that had plagued England for 30 years during the War of the Roses. It had only been about 40 years since the battle of Bosworth field had ended the dynastic warfare. With good reason the peers, and the king, of England had nightmares about a resumption of the chaos. The only surviving child of Henry and Catherine was Mary, born in 1516, but England was still considered far too contentious a throne for a woman, so Henry desperately needed a son and the aging Catherine was unlikely to provide one.

Balanced against the threat of the resumption of war, blood and destruction was the observance of an obscure piece of church dogma. About the only reason the Pope didn’t issue a divorce decree instantaneously was that he was the virtual prisoner of Charles I of Spain, who just happened to be Catherine’s nephew! In the final analysis there wasn’t a whole lot of foundation for a stand on principle.

In the movie More is played as a simple, quiet, sympathetic, even liberal man. In reality he was something of a religious nutcase. In his work Utopia, while advocating universal religious tolerance, More advocated the outlawing of atheism. As Chancellor of England, More had a nasty penchant for burning what he believed were heretics at the stake.

Bottom line, I could be wrong, but I don’t think Thomas More was a very admirable guy at least not by modern standards. He was probably a man of his time and class, arrogant, ignorant and intolerant. This sort of makes it quite appropriate that the Thomas More Center, a conservative law front that has defended such things as Intelligent Design in the biology classroom, is named after him.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Easter Candy and Pontius Pilate

Already they’re selling Easter candy in my local Eckerd. At the rate we’re going, they’ll be keeping all the holiday decorations and special items around all year long!

The Easter candy reminded me of an article I wrote a few years back that, it turns out, I’ve never posted on this blog, so I’ve decided to correct that omission.

On a number of occasions I’ve encountered arguments to the effect that the actions in the gospels attributed to Pontius Pilate during the trial of Jesus are contrary to what is known about Pilate’s personality and couldn’t possibly be accurate. Interestingly enough, I consider the described actions quite reasonable and even likely for the historical reasons outlined below. Now I’m not referring to specific details but rather to the three main points upon which all the gospels agree.

1. That Pilate was the judge at the trial.
2. That Pilate was hesitant to execute Jesus
3. That ultimately Pilate agreed to the execution.

What do we know about the man reputed to have given the orders for the crucifixion of Jesus? Surprisingly enough, the answer is quite a bit based upon the histories written at the time and some inferences derived from what is known about Roman Government, Roman Society and Judea in the early part of the first century.

Judea was a third class province, below the dignity of someone of Senatorial rank to govern. As a result it was assigned to a Prefect of Equestrian rank. The Equestrians were the lower nobility of Rome and a Prefect was a military rather than a civilian title. In contrast, the neighboring Province of Syria would have been governed by a Roman of Consular rank, the highest crust of the Roman upper nobility.

Pilate probably had some military experience to his credit and in fact was very likely more of a soldier than a politician. His new command appears to have consisted of 5 auxiliary infantry cohorts plus a small wing of auxiliary cavalry. Since the main mission of this force would have been to keep the local brigands under control, it’s also likely that each infantry cohort had a cavalry detachment. So the total force would have been about 3,500 men, some 2,500 infantry and 1,000 cavalry. These were 2nd rate Romans troops and small in number. They could handle bandits and minor disturbances, but in any major insurrection Pilate would have been in serious trouble.

While technically independent, Pilate would normally have been under the guidance, and protection, of the Consular Legate of Syria who had 4 Roman Legions at his disposal plus auxiliaries for something like 30,000 troops. In the event of real trouble, Pilate would have had to appeal to the Syrian Legions for help. He just didn’t have the manpower, especially considering even the small force he had was split between Jerusalem, Caesarea and patrolling the countryside.

Normally he would have been under the Syrian Governor’s guidance and protection, but during the first 6 years of Pilate’s command there was no Syrian governor in Antioch. Tiberius seems to have been experimenting with a sort of remote rule and the governor of Syria was in Rome! Since it’s unlikely that anyone on the spot in Syria had the authority to move the Syrian Legions to Judea without directions from Rome, Pilate must have been feeling a tad exposed.

In addition to his inability to rely on any immediate help from Syria in the event of an emergency, Pilate’s rule is marked by another unique circumstance. While Gratus, his predecessor as Prefect, replaced the Temple High Priest four times in his eleven year rule, Pilate stuck with the man he found in the office when he arrived, Caiaphus. One can only speculate why, but one can be pretty sure it was related to some type of quid pro quo agreement. Pilate may not have been a true politician, but he wasn’t stupid either and as an officer would have recognized an ally when he saw one.

That Pilate was more of a soldier than a politician is demonstrated by his first mistake early in his term as Prefect. Given the small force at his disposal, his first concern would have been the strategic placement of the few troops he had. That led him to redeploy a cohort from Caesarea to Jerusalem. Unfortunately he chose one whose standards carried an image of the emperor. Despite Josephus’ claims that this was a deliberate attempt to subvert Jewish practices and law, it appears to most historians more like a beginner’s mistake. Either Pilate was unaware of Jewish practices or, as a hard nosed military type, found it hard to believe the standards were really going to cause a problem. He was wrong, they did, and the next thing he knew several thousand Jews had appeared in Caesarea demanding that the standards be removed. Pilate had the good sense to back down and exchange cohorts; his small force would have been quickly overwhelmed in a general uprising which is what this appeared to be on the verge of becoming.

This brings us to Good Friday and the trial of Jesus. Let’s recap for a second and keep a few things in mind.

1. Pilate was most likely more of a soldier than a politician.
2. Pilate had a relatively small force of about 3,500 men.
3. Pilate could expect no immediate help from the Syrian Legions in the case of real trouble.
4. Pilate probably had a mutually beneficial quid pro quo arrangement with Caiaphas.

Pilate was the Judge at Jesus's Trial
At first blush it appears a little strange that the Roman governor would preside at the trial of a Jewish peasant. It appears strange because the word “governor” implies to us a high ranking political authority. But Pilate was a Prefect, a military officer and at the time, technically, the commanding officer in Jerusalem.

At any other time except Passover, the decision of what to do about Jesus would probably have fallen to the commander of the Jerusalem garrison who was more than likely an ex-senior centurion that had managed to be promoted to command of the auxiliary cohort. But at this time Pilate, as the senior officer on the spot, was the commander of the garrison so it’s very likely that he would in fact have to be the man to pass judgment. Who else would there be? That’s how military command works

Pilate was hesitant to execute Jesus
Pilate probably traveled from Caesarea with a cohort as escort. Added to the cohort permanently stationed at Jerusalem, that would have given him about 1,200 troops and he was surrounded by 50,000 or more pilgrims, all of them armed! I say they were armed because given the problems with bandits in Judea, travelers were allowed to travel armed and invariably did. Even the Essenes, religious ascetics, carried weapons when they traveled. The crowd would have had daggers, swords and clubs certainly, perhaps even bows.

No amount of training could make up for that kind of numerical disparity. Should things erupt, Pilate was in a hopeless military position and, as a soldier, he would know it. Given the situation, and his past experiences with the Jews, of course he was hesitant; he would have been a complete idiot not to be hesitant!

Ultimately Pilate agreed to the execution
Obviously, since Jesus was in fact executed, but why? The trial occurred at least 5 years into Pilate's rule and he had been working with Caiaphas since the beginning. He would know by now when he could rely on the High Priest and when he couldn't.

What Caiaphas would have realized was that this was the perfect opportunity to head off a future problem. The crowd had dispersed, the pilgrims were focusing on the holiday preparations, and if they moved quickly, it would all be over before the population realized what was happening.

Its unlikely Pilate viewed Jesus as much of a threat; he would be more concerned about the 50,000 armed pilgrims! But for Caiaphas, Jesus's antics in the Temple would have been a direct threat, not only to his authority, but to a very lucrative source of cash. Based on their quid pro quo relationship and Caiaphas's superior understanding of the Jews, it's not to difficult to believe that the High Priest would have convinced Pilate that executing this troublemaker was the smart, as well as the safer, decision.

Now, one other point needs to be addressed, which is exactly how did folks find out what took place? The trial may not have been terribly public as that would have focused the pilgrims on what was occurring (exactly the opposite of what Caiaphas and Pilate would want!), but it probably wasn't kept all that secretive either. There would have been servants, most of them Jews, as well as soldiers around, able to eavesdrop on what was going on. They would have talked and it's not surprising that the gist of the proceeding could be learned by anyone that was interested. Later the gospel writers, with expansion and embellishments undoubtedly, recorded what had occurred.

It's not terribly important that the gospels may add imaginative details. What is important is that the core of the events, Pilate was the judge; Pilate was initially hesitant to act, Pilate ultimately agreed to the execution, appear quite reasonable under the circumstances and might very well be accurate!

Surprise, surprise! Yet again the gospels indicate that they might very well be far more accurate as historical documents than some scholars and historians are willing to give them credit for.

I don't have a problem with the Bible as a historical document nor do I have a problem with it as a source of wisdom. It's the idea that it is the infallible source of law and morality that I reject.

What Should Influence our Laws More?

How does one relate to a group of people whose philosophy runs counter to the principles of the country?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last time I looked, the government of the United States was to be driven by the will of the people. This is the fundamental principle of Western Democracy, the will of the people, as long as it doesn’t stomp on the rights of the minority, trumps all.

How then do we account for a segment of the population that disagrees with this principle? In a recent Pew Forum poll the question was asked “Which should be the more important influence on the laws of the United States? Should it be the Bible or should it be the will of the American people, even when it conflicts with the Bible?”

The overwhelming majority of Americans understand that the twin principles of government by the people and religious freedom dictate that the answer to this question must be “the will of the American people” and they answered this way by a margin of 63%-32%.

Are you concerned that 32% of the country thinks the Bible should trump the will of the people especially considering that the majority of these morons probably don’t even know what the Bible says? It certainly bothers me. Do you suppose any demographic group would be ignorant enough that a majority voted that the Bible should have more influence? It would be a real shock wouldn’t it? Well, guess what, the group known as Evangelical Christians voted that way by an almost reverse margin of 60%-34%. Get it, 60% of Evangelical Christians think that the Bible should have more influence than the will of the American People when it comes to the laws of these United States.

This is why I consider Evangelical Christianity the single biggest danger to Western Democracy that exists today. They are like a fifth column intent on destroying the principles upon which the country is founded and replacing them with their own distorted views. And I’m supposed to respect this opinion and not identify it for the stupidity that it is simply because it has a religious foundation? I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one!

Yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that doesn’t mean I have to afford that opinion any degree of approval. Sometimes someone’s opinion stinks like last week’s garbage and this is one of those cases.

Blacks, by a margin of 50% to 48%, believe the Bible should have a greater influence while Whites, by a margin of 65%-35%, understand that it should be the will of the people.

Half the Blacks in this country believe that a book that accepts slavery and advocates a philosophy of the exclusion of those who are different, which is the foundation of racism, should have more influence on our laws than the will of the people. I find that really sad. I’d like to ask that 50% whether we should have all just accepted Genesis 9:27 as a justification for segregation and left Jim Crow in place.

Then again, education, as usual, looks like a possible cure here as those with a college degree understood it should be the will of the people by a margin of 75%-20%, those with some college by a margin of 66%-30% and, those with at least a High School diploma, by a margin of 58%-38%. Only those that didn’t even make it through High School split almost evenly, but still gave a small edge to the will of the people, by a margin 0f 47%-46%.

Those who take the Bible literally, 65%, and those who attend church services at least weekly, 52%, were more likely to say the Bible should have more influence. One encouraging point was that younger folks, by a margin of 74%-22%, understood that it should be the will of the people.

Like I said before, it’s quite likely that many of these idiots that are saying the Bible should have more influence on our laws don’t even know what the Bible says. Oh, I’m sure they’ve read selected “feel good” stories or had them read to them from the pulpit. There is no lack of admirable wisdom in the Bible. But I’ll bet you most of them would be stunned to learn of the myriad “hard passages” also contained in the Bible.

I think it was Isaac Asimov that said the Bible was the greatest argument for atheism he had ever encountered. I’ll make the observation that no intelligent person, that reads the Bible objectively, could conceivably come to the conclusion that it’s the word of God.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

HBO’s Rome – Episode 18

The Battle of Philippi, as imagined by HBO’s Rome, is a bloody affair moving in slow motion. The bloodiness is probably accurate although I suspect the movements of those involved were quite a bit more frantic.

Cassius and Brutus both die fighting rather than through the suicide route, although I guess you could call Brutus’s actions suicidal. Brutus is noble to the end. He refuses to retreat when surprised by the combined forces of Octavian and Antony. He tells his remaining troops to save themselves, requesting one officer to “tell my mother something suitable” before wading into the advancing enemy legionaries.

The battle follows a housecleaning back in Rome by Octavian and Antony to eliminate enemies and accumulate wealth. Octavian comes up with the idea but Antony carries it to a level that appears to bother Octavian and clearly upsets Agrippa. Atia even convinces Antony to do away with the father of Octavia’s friend Jocasta whom Atia considers a bad influence. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

It’s Vorenus and the collegium gangs that get the job of eliminating those on “the list.” As a reward the gangs are entitled to all the loot they can carry. Vorenus suggests they use the windfall to feed the people. This idea is received with less than overwhelming enthusiasm.

Included on the list is Cicero whom Pullo gets the job of eliminating and then nailing Cicero’s hands, as Antony promised would happen, to the senate door. On the domestic front, there seem be a number of plots being hatched. Memmio, a rival gang captain, appears to be working on something involving Vorenus’s older daughter and a gigolo type character. Gaia, a female hard ass slave, looks like she’s constantly scheming. After getting blown off by Vorenus after a night of sex, Gaia seems to be making plays for Pullo, to the distress of Eirene, and Mascius, the ex-soldier that is Vorenus’s number 3 man. I originally thought she might become the Niobi replacement but perhaps I was wrong. Lyde is trying to convince Vorenus that his older daughter should be allowed to marry but Vorenus, hard nose that he is, is convinced that no man worth having would accept a wife that had been forced into prostitution. Eirene is pregnant, Agrippa got it together with Octavia, Atia has figured out that Agrippa and Octavia got it together and Atia has mentioned the M word for the second time to Antony. Oh yeah, and Timon appears to now see eye to eye with his brother and now they both sound like siccari including beating on the elders considering bribing the Romans on behalf of Herod.

A lot of stuff happens in an hour on this show. So where is it all going? With Philippi dispensed with by episode 18, what’s going to happen in the last 6 shows? Clearly it’s going to be Antony and Cleopatra getting it together, Atia getting royally pissed over that, the battle of Actium and the asp. One wonders how they’re going to handle the little problem of Caesarion. Historically Octavian had the boy eliminated. In the show however the boy is possibly the son of Pullo and I wonder if that's going to have any impact.

On the home front, I have no idea. I don’t know whether we’re heading for a happily ever after kind of ending or a total catastrophe. At the moment, a total catastrophe seems more likely. And where are they going with this Timon and his brother subplot?

Like last year the show is following a very rough outline of history while playing fast and loose with the details. This allows you to have a handle on the general direction the show is going to take without knowing either how it’s going to get there or what’s going to happen when it arrives. That keeps you guessing which is what I find enjoyable about watching the show. We shall see, what we shall see I suppose.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Death Penalty Update

It’s been a while since I’ve done a general death penalty post. Well, 2007 is off and running. There have been five executions already, one in Oklahoma and four, yeah, that’s right, FOUR, in Texas. Do you suppose they drink different water in Texas or what?

Rick Halperin, at his Death Penalty News & Updates site at SMU, reports that another 21 executions, including 9 in Texas, were scheduled around the country between now and mid-August. I say “were” because five of those were in Tennessee and Governor Phil Bredesen has now placed all executions there on hold because of problems with the state’s “Manual for Execution” which, among other idiocies, contained instructions that the condemned prisoner’s head be shaved. Tennessee uses lethal injection. Where were they thinking of inserting the needle if they have to shave the head?

Around the country, two states, Illinois and New Jersey, have formal moratoriums on executions in place. One state, New York, has had its death penalty declared unconstitutional since 2004 and appears to be in no rush to reinstate it. Ten states, including California, Florida and Ohio, have executions effectively halted due to legal issues with lethal injection procedures. Twelve states are considering either abolishing capital punishment or declaring a formal moratorium. The states most likely to abolish the death penalty in the near future are New Jersey, where a special committee has recommended abolition by an overwhelming 12-1 margin, Nebraska, whose judiciary committee unanimously approved moving an abolition measure to the senate floor and Colorado, whose judiciary committee passed an abolition resolution by a vote of 7-4.

On a sour note, five states, including Texas of course, are considering expanding the application of the death penalty! Four of these states, Texas, Missouri, Virginia and Georgia are in the south. The fifth is Utah which I’m not 100% certain is a part of the United States anyway. Actually, I suspect Utah is really a myth. I mean, has anyone actually ever met someone from Utah?

HBO’s Rome

I’m having trouble keeping up. Two episodes have gone by since my initial update and things are progressing.

Atia avoided a gruesome death thanks to a slave’s sneaking a taste from her dinner. This led to a little torture session for the poisoner, curtesy of Timon, followed by the abduction and beating of Servilia. This was more than Timon could handle however and he stomped out, after releasing Servilia, shouting “I’m not an animal!” Appears that Timon has found religion, or perhaps refound it, as last we saw him he was praying alongside his supposedly rehabilitated brother. I still think the brother sounds like a Zealot though.

Pullo ran into the grown up Octavian while searching for Vorenus. It appears Octavian still looks upon Pullo and, by extension, Vorenus favorably, although Vorenus’s loyalty to Antony could be a problem down the line.

For the moment however that’s all sort of irrelevant. Cicero has recalled Brutus and Cassius to Rome at the head of a large enough Army that Octavian and Antony have buried the hatchet in the face of the common threat.

Vorenus and Pullo managed to locate Vorenus’s children and rescue them from slavery with only one death, that of the overseer. That was a little disappointing as I was expecting a bloodbath. Unfortunately the two daughters are holding a grudge. With some justification they blame Vorenus for their time in slavery and for the death of Niobi. They’ve already tried to run away once and only returned in response to Lyde’s urging.

In the meantime, Vorenus has re-assumed gang command in the Aventine and negotiated a peace with the two gangs his group had been in conflict with. Getting demoted back to number 3 didn’t thrill the ex-soldier that had been in charge during the absence of Vorenus and Pullo.

So, it’s Octavian and Antony in an alliance of convenience in order to deal with Brutus and Cassius. Timon has found religion and Vorenus has conflicts brewing both within his criminal gang and within his family. One wonders how they’re going to work this all out? Oh yeah, Agrippa has the hots for Octavia.

Brutus and Cassius are marching toward Rome from Asia. Octavian and Antony need to meet up with them in Macedonia for the battle of Philippi so the two need to get moving. I’m wondering if Vorenus and Pullo will remain behind or march with the army? I can envision a developing plot between the disgruntled #3 in command and the disgruntled older daughter while daddy is away.

The battle of Philippi was rather a long drawn out affair, far too drawn out for it to be accurately represented on a TV series. Look for a fast march to Macedonia by Octavian and Antony followed by a quick decisive engagement. Historically both Brutus and Cassius committed suicide. One wonders how HBO will portray their deaths?

Near the end of last season, Vorenus’s life was going well while Pullo descended into the depths of depression and depravity, but that all came apart in the last episode. Early this season it was Pullo’s life on the upswing, with his marriage to Eriane, and Vorenus’s life in ruins. Now things appear to be stabilizing but it’s the eye of the storm. All around them are conflicts brewing. I wonder how it’s all going to end? With the emergence of Timon as a man of God one wonders if somehow monotheism in general, and Christianity in particular, will end up with a role to play. There are still 40 years to go until the birth of Jesus, but a little thing like historical accuracy has never bothered TV before.

Friday, February 09, 2007

So What About Barack Obama?

Beats the hell out of me. I don’t know enough about the man or what he stands for and I’m sorry, but simply being black, articulate, handsome and charismatic isn’t enough.

Ok, granted he’s a lot smarter than George Bush Jr., would probably not get caught molesting interns like Bill Clinton, clearly has a superior intellect when compared to George Bush Sr., would be capable of making weightier decisions, beyond simply what jelly bean to eat next, than Ronald Reagan and wouldn’t get pushed around by some Ayatollah like Jimmy Carter.

In other words he couldn’t possibly be any worse then the lightweights we’ve suffered through over the past 25 years or so. That being the case, what the hell, go Barack go!

Religious Protests over a Ramp?

The religious mind never ceases to amaze me. In the latest round of absurdities the AP has reported on the protest by hundreds of Muslims over the Israeli government’s plans to replace a ramp leading up to the Noble Sanctuary, the third most holy site in Islam.

Here are some of the quotes reported by the AP.

Raed Salah, a leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, said “The aggression happening now is a tragedy, a crime,” and then went on to accuse Israel of declaring “a regional religious war.”

They’re fixing a freaking ramp that they believe has become unsafe. Maybe they should wait until the damn thing collapses and kills a dozen or so people? What would you accuse them of then, genocide? Talk about exaggeration! The Israeli’s swear the work isn’t going to damage the Muslim Holy site. Personally I think they should bull doze the whole thing along with all the other mosques, churches and synagogues. Then they could use the land for something useful.

U.N. ambassadors from the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference called on the U.N. Security Council “to take immediate and urgent action in order to bring an end to Israeli intransigence and violations against the blessed Al Aqsa mosque.”

The U.N. Security Council? You brought this before the U.N. Security Council? Can somebody please explain to me again how the religious are rational? They’re all nuts if you ask me and Muslims must be the craziest of the lot.

UNESCO issued a statement calling on Israel “to suspend any action that could endanger the spirit of mutual respect until such time as the will to dialogue prevails once again.”

What mutual respect? Again I ask what kind of reaction could we expect if the damn ramp collapsed and killed 20 or 30 Muslims?

I find this so ridiculous as to be beyond comprehension.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Super Bowl XLI

Boy what a soggy mess. The only thing I could think about the whole game was “thank goodness it’s not me sitting there getting drenched!”

Actually, that’s not really true; I was also groaning that the missed extra point in the 1st quarter pretty much blew any chance I had for collecting cash from the pool I invested $10 in since I had 4-4.

Beyond that, I thought the commercials were way below par for a Super Bowl and I was terribly disappointed that Prince didn’t slide on the wet stage and land on his butt during his water soaked performance at half-time.

Such are the thoughts that go through one’s mind when one couldn’t care less who wins the damn game. Given the weather, the game was more than a little sloppy with loads of turnovers, most of which seemed to be the courtesy of the Bears overmatched quarterback Rex Grossman. Talk about having a bad day.

So Payton gets his first ring and, hopefully, this will establish such a level of sibling rivalry that Eli will drag the Giants, probably kicking and screaming, to a date with destiny of their own. Or at least one can dream as the glory of 1990 is beginning to grow dim.

Final score, Colts 29 and Bears 17.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Story of the Grainfield

Mark tells a story about Jesus and the disciples crossing a grainfield one Sabbath.

Mark 2:23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?"

Mark 2:25 He answered, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions."

Mark 2:27 Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."

The story is repeated in both Matthew 12 and Luke 6. Matthew omits the name of the priest but adds some expansion including these words to what Jesus says:

Matthew 12:6 “I tell you that one greater than the temple is here.”

Luke’s version is almost identical to Mark’s except that he also, strangely enough, omits the name of the priest. Why do Matthew and Luke omit the name of the priest?

Well, if you go back to the original story, which comes from 1 Samuel 21, there’s a possible reason. The name of the priest that David gets the bread from is Ahimelech and not Abiathar. Abiathar was the son of Ahimelech and escaped the revenge that Saul takes upon Ahimelech and his family for helping David.

Now Samuel doesn’t call Ahimelech the high priest, but Ahimelech does appear to be the head priest at a place called Nod. So what’s the deal here? Did Jesus make a mistake or did Mark make a mistake? Either way it sort of makes you wonder. If Jesus made the mistake, is it likely that God, even in the guise of a man, would misquote his own scripture? If Mark made the mistake, well, so much for the inerrancy of the text.

But here’s something else, all three gospels say that David also gave some of the bread to his companions. But David didn’t have any companions. David is fleeing from Saul by himself. Ahimelech even asks him “Why are you alone?” David lies to the priest saying that he is on a confidential mission for the king which “No one is to know anything about” and that he ordered his men “to meet me at a certain place.” In reality David did no such thing, since he wasn’t on a mission from the king but was fleeing for his life, he had no troops escorting him. Others don’t join David until 1 Samuel 22. When he is talking Ahimelech into giving him the consecrated bread, he’s by himself.

So the whole story is a totally incorrect retelling of the story from 1 Samuel 21. So who blew it? Did Jesus have a memory lapse or did Mark? Matthew and Luke did what damage control they could by omitting the priest’s name. They couldn’t omit the statements about David’s companions without making the whole story completely irrelevant to something being done by the apostles.

If the bible is inerrant, then Jesus was wrong or was making things up, in other words, lying. If Jesus actually told the story correctly, then all three gospels are inaccurate in their description of the event.

I’m sure there exists an apologetic answer to this although I’ve never come across it. One obvious point is that the story of David is incidental to the points Jesus is making. First, he is pointing out the difference between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law. Second, he is making the point that the Pharisee’s interpretation of the law is not necessarily the right interpretation of the law.

Regardless of how often someone tries to convince me that Jesus was an ignorant peasant with limited intellectual skills, the argument doesn’t stick. He certainly didn’t have a cosmopolitan outlook on life and his education was probably limited by the fact that he was living in a backwater of the empire. He may have been ignorant in the sense that he didn’t have the benefit of a classical or liberal education, and he probably had no conception of the world beyond the limited confines of Galilee and Judea, but his mental faculties strike me as having been top notch.

Yes, I’m convinced that Jesus was a pretty smart cookie. Maybe someone should start a religion based upon his teachings? The main point of the story that, despite the unmitigated arrogance of the Pharisees, their interpretation is not necessarily the right interpretation, should be taken to heart by the modern day Pharisees, those who call themselves “Evangelical Christians.”