Post-Rapture News

(via Wikipedia)

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles made his famous War of the Worlds broadcast. Since it was presented as a series of news bulletins, listeners thought that an actual alien invasion was in progress. People panicked. According to Annie Jacobsen, author of the new book Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base, this panic was observed with amusement by Stalin and Hitler.

Ms. JACOBSEN: When the Orson Welles radio broadcast “The War of the Worlds” aired in 1938, people on the East Coast actually took actions based on their belief that Martians had landed in New Jersey and were attacking. And this fascinated the American military – I source all this in my book – and led to a lot of behind-the-scenes thinking about what it meant that American citizens could be so moved by something that was fictional – that was science fiction. And across the pond, Hitler also paid attention to “The War of the Worlds.” He referenced it in a speech. And according to my source, Stalin also paid attention to “The War of the Worlds” and was fascinated by American susceptibility toward science fiction. And so his plan, according to my source, was to create panic in the United States with this belief that a UFO had landed with aliens inside of it.[Transcript: Area 51 ‘Uncensored’: Was It UFOs Or The USSR?]

Replace Science Fiction with religion and things are no different in 2011. Some nut job in Oakland, CA announced that today would be the end of the world and there are thousands who are taking it seriously. A biblical event 19th century invention known as rapture, when Jesus Christ returns to take his saints and leave us bloggers and idolators to live peacefully on earth, was to happen, but apparently did not. But in United States –

Thousands of people around the country have spent the last few days taking to the streets and saying final goodbyes before Saturday, Judgment Day, when they expect to be absorbed into heaven in a process known as the rapture. Nonbelievers, they hold, will be left behind to perish along with the world over the next five months. With their doomsday T-shirts, placards and leaflets, followers — often clutching Bibles — are typically viewed as harmless proselytizers from outside mainstream religion. But their convictions have frequently created the most tension within their own families, particularly with relatives whose main concern about the weekend is whether it will rain.[Make My Bed? But You Say the World’s Ending]

So who started this hoax, which is the top news on Google right now?

Ms. Douglas and other believers subscribe to the prophecy of Harold Camping, a civil engineer turned self-taught biblical scholar whose doomsday scenario — broadcast on his Family Radio network — predicts a May 21, 2011, Judgment Day. On that day, arrived at through a series of Bible-based calculations that assume the world will end exactly 7,000 years after Noah’s flood, believers are to be transported up to heaven as a worldwide earthquake strikes. Nonbelievers will endure five months of plagues, quakes, wars, famine and general torment before the planet’s total destruction in October[Make My Bed? But You Say the World’s Ending]

Even Oprah was using the term in her final speech

Oprah gave her “ugly-cry” face and said “I’ve never experienced anything like this and I say once again thank you for taking me to a place that’s beyond joyous. I’m going to have to process it and look at it on tape to see what actually happened here. It feels like the rapture, so thank you all for that!”[Everybody Was at the Final Taping of Oprah]

Is this the first time such rapture craziness has happened? No, apparently rapture was supposed to happen in 1831, 1844, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1942, 1981, 1988, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1994, and now finally 2011. Now lets say for some reason, like for example, I don’t know, there is no movie called Return of Jesus Christ, rapture does not happen today, it can happen in 2060. The 2060 date cannot be absolutely, postively wrong because it was calculated by none other than Sir Isaac Newton based on the book of Daniel.

60 Minutes Feature on Mt. Athos

Mt. Athos in Greece is a unique place where Orthodox monks live a monastic life. Though Greece protects the peninsula, it is self governed by the monks of the 20 monasteries of the Eastern Orthodoxy. Special permission is needed to visit Mt. Athos and only a few visitors are allowed each month. Mt. Athos does not permit women to enter and this ban has been in place since 1045 CE, since the time of the Byzantine emperor Constantine Monomachos. Mt. Athos does not even permit female animals (female cats are allowed since they catch rats).
Most of us will never set foot in this autonomous monastic state where orthodoxy has been preserved for a millenia. So the next best option is to watch the CBS 60 Minutes feature on this. (Part 1, Part 2). Ironically, the CBS clips are sponsored by viagra.

16th Century Europe

In 1492 Christopher Columbus set of to Asia and reached the Americas. Six years later Vasco da Gama reached Calicut. Following these, Europeans made many such voyages, started trading companies and eventually colonized the world. But what was Europe like in those days? Movies like 1492: Conquest of Paradise and The Sea Hawk give us  some images, but they do not present the complete picture.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison has posted lectures given by Prof. George L. Mosse in the Fall of 1969. One of the lectures (mp3) deals with this question and the image of Europe of that period is not pretty.

By 1500, economic conditions were severe: a price revolution was starting, but it was also a time of bad harvests. 1500 saw a total crop failure in all of Germany that resulted in peasant uprisings, looting and pillaging, to such a proportion that in 1501 Europe for the firsts time saw a paid police force to maintain order. Additional scourges were diseases and epidemics. First and foremost, the Black Death: To the populations of Europe, this seemed like a willful and arbitrary punishment. Between 1499 and 1502, whole populations were decimated. A new disease, syphilis, joined the plague. This prompted preachers to call for repentance, penance and pilgrimages. The Plague was more frightening than the syphilis, because it occurred suddenly and greatly disfigured its victims. All of this leads to a heightened religious sensibility and a search for answers by all parts of the population.
To find answers, people turned to a kind of literature that had come down from the Middle Ages and was most popular: books of prophecies. Their content was simple, promising hope for the future: darkness would be followed by light, and after the Anti-Christ would come Christ. The roots of these books lay partly in the bible (which, Mosse tells the students, he is sure they have never read), especially in the Books of the Apocalypse. The Apocalypse is written in symbolic terms. Before the book of the seven seals can be opened, “the wine must be pressed and the harvest reaped” that means, before Christ’s return there will be bloody wars and mass the conversion of the heathens, especially of the Jews, to Christianity. Man lived in the expectation that the world was coming to an end; Luther believed it, and so did all protestant reformers and many of the intellectuals. With it came astrology. The stars were now in an evil conjunction. Saturn was “the evil planet”. The Anti-Christ would come up from the darkness; for a short while the Jews would rule the world before their conversion. Then the book of seven seals would be opened. (For example, Shakespeare firmly believed in astrology).[European Cultural History 1500-1815 – Summary]

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

Two New Fakes

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

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

The nails were found in the tomb of a Caiaphas family. Caiphas was also the name of the High Priest during the time of the crucifixion. So the assumption is that this Caiphas is that Caiphas and for some reason one of the nails used to crucify a man called Yeshua — whom Caiphas hated — was put in his tomb.
Prof. Robert Cargill of UCLA writes, “no, simcha, you didn’t find the ‘nails of the cross’ of christ (a week before easter)”

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

Dr. James McGrath has a roundup from various scholars on this topic.
The next hoax is a collection of 70 metal books from Jordan

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

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

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

Aryans, Early Christians and their Travel Plans

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

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

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

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

Hat Tip to Dhruva, Pragmatic Euphony

Beck's Christianity

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

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

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

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

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

“The Apostle Paul warns Christians against uniting with unbelievers in spiritual endeavors,” Howse wrote. “While I applaud and agree with many of Glenn Beck’s conservative and constitutional views, that does not give me or any other Bible-believing Christian justification to compromise Biblical truth by spiritually joining Beck.”
“Jesus Christ’s Church has universally rejected Mormonism’s Anti-Trinitarian theology and its claim that mortals may become God,” David Shedlock, a contributor to the evangelical blog Caffeinated Thoughts, wrote in a post this month. “Beck asks Christian leaders to ‘put differences aside,’ but Beck himself daily peppers his broadcasts with Mormon distinctives because he cannot keep his beliefs to himself.” [Some evangelicals on defensive over partnering with Glenn Beck, a Mormon]

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

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

Searching for the Historical Jesus (2)

For the faithful, the Bible is the word of God; for the historian it is not since there are major discrepancies among gospels. For example, the genealogy of Jesus differs among the gospels of Mathew and Luke. Also in Mark, the followers don’t recognize him as the Messiah until much later while in John, it is right from the beginning. There is no agreement even on which day he actually died. Mark says one thing and John says something else.  
Can we know for sure if the gospels contain the sayings of Jesus? We can’t be sure since the gospels disagree there too. In John for example, Jesus asserts his divinity, which he never does in the synoptic gospels. But then isn’t it possible that the anonymous authors of the gospels re-contextualized the messages and edited them to suit their needs? Isn’t it sufficient that Jesus’s theology of the Kingdom of God, was something prevalent in that period? 
If the Gospel writers changed words — the historian would argue —  would they differ radically in important events like the trial of Jesus by Pilate or the words he uttered during crucifixion or the post-death events? In Mark he asks the Father why he was forsaken while in Luke he asks his killers be forgiven.
The believer would then say that even though there are some differences, they all agree on where Jesus lived, preached and how he died. The historian would posit that there is no eyewitness account of Jesus outside the gospels. The first Jewish reference appears in Josephus, six decades later; the first Roman reference almost nine decades later in Pliny.
How do you resolve this dispute? You can get some answers by organizing a debate between a non-believer and a believer. And that’s what happened at the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in April of this year where  Dr. Craig Evans and Dr. Bart Ehrman debated on questions like ” are the gospels historically reliable?” and “Do the gospels contain eyewitness tradition?”. You can see the entire debate here and read few accounts here and here.
OT: Recently Glenn Beck displayed his unfathomable knowledge of the Dead Sea Scrolls. While many experts pointed out that he was an idiot, one blogger came to Beck’s defense.

Searching for the Historical Jesus

To find if there was a historical Jesus, scholars who study the gospels apply a number of techniques to sift through theology and miracles to find if there is a kernel of truth. Thomas Sheehan’s Historical Jesus is an excellent introduction to the methodology.
Since searching for this Historical Jesus a popular topic, a large number of books are still published each month. Adam Gopnik at New Yorker has a wonderful article which summarizes the current state of affairs in this field.

Malcolm X was the very model of a modern apocalyptic prophet-politician, unambiguously preaching violence and a doctrine of millennial revenge, all fuelled by a set of cult beliefs—a hovering U.F.O., a strange racial myth. But Malcolm was also a community builder, a moral reformer (genuinely distraught over the sexual sins of his leader), who refused to carry weapons, and who ended, within the constraints of his faith, as some kind of universalist. When he was martyred, he was called a prophet of hate; within three decades of his death—about the time that separates the Gospels from Jesus—he could be the cover subject of a liberal humanist magazine like this one. One can even see how martyrdom and “beatification” draws out more personal detail, almost perfectly on schedule: Alex Haley, Malcolm’s Paul, is long on doctrine and short on details; thirty years on, Spike Lee, his Mark, has a full role for a wife and children, and a universalist message that manages to blend Malcolm into Mandela. [WHAT DID JESUS DO?]

One of the points Gopnik makes is that the four canonical gospels were written after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E. If you go to the church in Niranam, a small village in Southern Kerala, there is a board which tells you that the church was found by St. Thomas in 52 C.E. If Thomas came to Kerala at that time, he would not have known about the four canonical gospels. Even if he had known about Mark or the source Q, he would have known a different Yeshua. For example, in Mark there is no virgin birth or resurrection; those came in later gospels.

Faking Noah's Ark

A major breaking news few days back was the “discovery” of “Noah’s Ark.” Yes, that Noah’s Ark. It was discovered by Turkish and Chinese Evangelicals on top of Mount Ararat in Turkey. For years many explorers, who literally believe in the Bible, have searched for it in Turkey and it was even featured on PBS.
Finally the lucky ones were the Noah’s Ark Ministries from Hong Kong and their partner The Media Evangelism.

The team said it had recovered wooden specimens from a structure on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey that carbon dating proved was 4800 years old, around the same time the ark is said to have been afloat.
“It’s not 100 per cent that it is Noah’s Ark but we think it is 99.9 per cent that this is it,” said Yeung Wing-cheung, a Hong Kong documentary filmmaker and member of the 15-strong team from Noah’s Ark Ministries International.
The structure had several compartments, some with wooden beams, which were believed to house animals, he said. [Noah’s Ark ‘found’ in Turkey]

An artifact from a story, recycled from a Sumerian epic, discovered by a group of people who want to “advance the Kingdom of God.”; What could go wrong? Especially when the same group runs a theme park by the same name.
It is bad when one of your team members think that a group of local Kurdish men hauled the wood from the Black Sea area to Mt. Ararat to stage a hoax. It is a disaster when members of Creation Institute want to stay away from you. So it is not surprising when scholars dismiss the story, here and here and here and here. And now the Turkish authorities are investigating
Adam Rutherford at The Guardian writes about these artificial relics.

It seems to me that the physical aspects of Christianity are so much less interesting than the intellectual. Did Jesus exist? No one knows. And while I understand the import of his actual existence and more significantly his gory death, what’s far more fascinating is that billions of people believe in him. Did Noah’s ark exist? No. But there are diluvian myths in many cultures and religion, and that’s interesting. The problem with relics is that they are fundamentally silly, and that limits discourse to the absurd. [A pain in the ark]

Gama's Eastern Christians

An iconic scene during the Portuguese arrival in Malabar in 1498 is when the ex-convict Joao Nunes stepped into land and met two Moors from Tunis. The Moors greeted the ex-convict, “The Devil take you! What bought you here.” He replied, “We came to seek Christians and spices”.

While the Portuguese search for a direct trade route to India bypassing the Muslims is well known, less mentioned is this search for Christians. They searched for the Eastern Christians in Africa and India and interestingly found them everywhere they looked. They also encountered Muslims; encounters which did not go well. The joyous news of the discovery of Eastern Christians was duly reported to Dom Manuel.

Vasco da Gama’s king, Dom Manuel, over a period had developed a messianic streak, due to the death of a large number of people who had preceded him. He believed that he was chosen by the Holy Spirit to confront the powerful. He wanted to take over the Holy Land and destroy Mecca to claim the title — the Emperor of the East. But he could not do it alone: to attack the Egyptian Mamluks, for instance, he needed help and for this the lost Christian kingdoms of Asia could become useful.

To understand this Portuguese obsession with finding Eastern Christians, we need to go along with Vasco da Gama on his first Voyage to Malabar and experience his encounters with people of other faiths.

In Search of Christians

(Prester John)

After navigating the Cape, the fleet reached Mozambique Island in March 1498 where men belonging to the “sect of Mohammed” told them that Eastern Christians lived on a nearby island. The other half of the island where the Christians lived was populated by Moors and there were constant battles among them. Then they were told that Prester John — the mythical Christian king — lived nearby in the interior and he could be reached by a camel trip. Though they were happy to hear about Prester John, they did not attempt to visit him.

During a conversation, the Sultan of Mozambique asked Nicolau Coelho, one of the captains in Gama’s fleet, about Turkey and their religious books. Then Coelho realized that the Sultan had assumed them to be Turks and not Christians. The Portuguese wanted to conceal their identity since they did not know how the reaction would be. Hence for celebrating mass, they would go off to an island.
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