Archive for the ‘Christianity/Biblical Studies’ Category

An example of Plato's Greek writings

Official University of Manchester Press Release:

Plato was the Einstein of Greece’s Golden Age and his work founded Western culture and science. Dr Jay Kennedy’s findings are set to revolutionise the history of the origins of Western thought.

Dr Kennedy, whose findings are published in the leading US journal Apeiron, reveals that Plato used a regular pattern of symbols, inherited from the ancient followers of Pythagoras, to give his books a musical structure. A century earlier, Pythagoras had declared that the planets and stars made an inaudible music, a ‘harmony of the spheres’. Plato imitated this hidden music in his books.

The hidden codes show that Plato anticipated the Scientific Revolution 2,000 years before Isaac Newton, discovering its most important idea – the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics. The decoded messages also open up a surprising way to unite science and religion. The awe and beauty we feel in nature, Plato says, shows that it is divine; discovering the scientific order of nature is getting closer to God. This could transform today’s culture wars between science and religion.

“Plato’s books played a major role in founding Western culture but they are mysterious and end in riddles,” Dr Kennedy, at Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences explains.

“In antiquity, many of his followers said the books contained hidden layers of meaning and secret codes, but this was rejected by modern scholars.

Dr. Kennedy

“It is a long and exciting story, but basically I cracked the code. I have shown rigorously that the books do contain codes and symbols and that unraveling them reveals the hidden philosophy of Plato.

“This is a true discovery, not simply reinterpretation.”

This will transform the early history of Western thought, and especially the histories of ancient science, mathematics, music, and philosophy.

Dr Kennedy spent five years studying Plato’s writing and found that in his best-known work the Republic he placed clusters of words related to music after each twelfth of the text – at one-twelfth, two-twelfths, etc. This regular pattern represented the twelve notes of a Greek musical scale. Some notes were harmonic, others dissonant. At the locations of the harmonic notes he described sounds associated with love or laughter, while the locations of dissonant notes were marked with screeching sounds or war or death. This musical code was key to cracking Plato’s entire symbolic system. (more…)

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Prof. Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa has deciphered a Hebrew text found on a pottery shard discovered over a year ago in Khirbet Qeiyafa. The text dates back to the 10th century B.C. and is now the oldest known Hebrew inscription. How “sophisticated” ancient Israel was back in the 10th century around the time of King David is widely debated. This text proves that there was at least some level of government established that called for scribes to write about social issues.

Prof. Galil also notes that the inscription was discovered in a provincial town in Judea. He explains that if there were scribes in the periphery, it can be assumed that those inhabiting the central region and Jerusalem were even more proficient writers. “It can now be maintained that it was highly reasonable that during the 10th century BCE, during the reign of King David, there were scribes in Israel who were able to write literary texts and complex historiographies such as the books of Judges and Samuel.” He adds that the complexity of the text discovered in Khirbet Qeiyafa, along with the impressive fortifications revealed at the site, refute the claims denying the existence of the Kingdom of Israel at that time.

The contents of the text express social sensitivity to the fragile position of weaker members of society. The inscription testifies to the presence of strangers within the Israeli society as far back as this ancient period, and calls to provide support for these strangers. It appeals to care for the widows and orphans and that the king – who at that time had the responsibility of curbing social inequality – be involved. This inscription is similar in its content to biblical scriptures (Isaiah 1:17, Psalms 72:3, Exodus 23:3, and others), but it is clear that it is not copied from any biblical text.

Source: Most ancient Hebrew biblical inscription deciphered

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This was a paper I wrote for a history of Western civilization class  December 1, 2008. The discussion of the strained relationship between Muslims and Christians is just as valid today as it was 1,000 years ago.

The Build Up and Aftermath of the Crusades in the Christian and Muslim Worlds

The crusades were not only a series of wars, but a clash of cultures. The Christian west and Muslim east were just as different a thousand years ago as they are today. The first crusade occurred at a time when Islam was rapidly expanding and Christian Europe was experiencing economic growth. For both worlds the time was ripe for battle. Unlike most wars, the crusades lasted for several hundred years. This prolonged conflict left many lasting effects such as the large population of Muslims in the Balkans and the tensions between the two ideologies that is still present today. To truly understand the effects of the crusades it is important to compare the cultures of the Christian and Muslim worlds before and after.

This story starts with the Prophet Mohammad’s message; it was so inspiring that almost all of Arabia was converted to Islam within his lifetime. The Arabs of the east had a much different culture than the Christians of the west. Christianity had been established for over six hundred years by the time of Mohammad’s death in 632. Islam took off the ground running. Within a generation the close knit kinships of the Arabs became a powerful force rising to the call of conquest.

The earliest converts to Islam were viewed as the most faithful to the religion and were promised governing positions in new lands. The economy of Arabia was very fragile. Desert farming was unpredictable and frequent droughts made a very unstable food supply. Trade of luxury goods such as spices, incense, and perfumes were vital to ensure enough food was available for the livelihood of the region. Trade was dominated by the largest tribes, and it was often poorly distributed. Raiding was often necessary for survival. Amid the dry desert a violent and often brutal society arose. The seventh century successors of Mohammad urged Arabs to invade the Roman Empire, and they were more than happy to comply. The call for Islamic conquest created the opportunity for a new political elite to arise. It didn’t take much persuasion to attract and gain the support of the majority. Conquered peoples were taxed while Arab settlers paid no taxes and actually received salaries to live and work these new lands. Arabs who didn’t move to new lands were taxed; this paints a very clear picture that the Islamic conquests were supported by the Arab people. Massive armies of volunteers were not hard to construct.

The Muslims agreed that there would be no compromise for the complete conversion of pagans, by the sword if need be. Convert to Islam or die. Luckily for many Arab pagans, Islam was very attractive so many converted by choice and not force. It was more so during the conquests that people were forced to conform. It is interesting that the Muslims did make compromise for the “People of the Book,” Christians and Jews were seen as heretics of the Word, but nonetheless were not ostracized like the pagans. Submission held a core position in the faith. A good Muslim must submit to Islam-which literally translates to submission in Arabic. Islam is right, opinions that strayed from it were wrong. It is important to note that most people who heard about Islam converted willingly. Whether it was the message or the lower taxes for Muslim converts it is uncertain, but that really wasn’t the point when the goal was to create large Islamic states. A fully converted state meant true submission was achieved.

The religion of Islam set strict standards for Muslim treatment of each other. With no fighting allowed towards another Muslim, in addition to the religious fervor that was running rampant, it seemed almost natural for the violent society to lash outward. Conquests became the outlet for a fierce aggression that ran through the veins of every Arab man passed down from one generation to another. Within a hundred years Islamic forces marched all the way around North Africa conquering the Roman provinces of Carthage and Tangiers, they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and conquered Spain, and almost pushed through Gaul all the way to Paris. Islam spread faster in one century than Christianity had in seven, and this was frightening. (more…)

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I was pleasantly surprised to find this article on the “God Gene”. I have never heard this theory from anyone else before. Just yesterday I was sharing an idea I had about religion. In any beginning level anthropology course you learn about what exactly ‘culture’ is. One of the many similarities between all cultures is religion. I was speaking about a time in an anthropology course when I got into a debate with another woman about whether human behavior is more biologically based or culturally based. My point of view is that we are biological creatures first and foremost, but that our secondary trait of a big brain (and the ability to reason) has allowed us to create culture for the well being of the group as a whole. This is by no means a scientific estimate, but I’d put biological based factors to count for at least 60% of our behavior and culturally based factors around 40%. My argument therefore is that if we are biological creatures, and cultures all around the world that have been completely isolated for thousands of years have very similar aspects of culture, doesn’t it make sense that perhaps all those aspects of culture (like religion) would be pushed into creation by biological drivers? I have said in a previous post that I think religion is an innate sense. Perhaps religion is biologically driven after all.

Nicholas Wade, a science reporter for The New York Times (the writer of the article below), is the author of  The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures.  Based on the article below I think I’d be interested in his book.

The Evolution of the God Gene

IN the Oaxaca Valley of Mexico, the archaeologists Joyce Marcus and Kent Flannery have gained a remarkable insight into the origin of religion.

During 15 years of excavation they have uncovered not some monumental temple but evidence of a critical transition in religious behavior. The record begins with a simple dancing floor, the arena for the communal religious dances held by hunter-gatherers in about 7,000 B.C. It moves to the ancestor-cult shrines that appeared after the beginning of corn-based agriculture around 1,500 B.C., and ends in A.D. 30 with the sophisticated, astronomically oriented temples of an early archaic state.

I’d like to just clarify that the research by Joyce Marcus and Kent Flannery only refers to the coevolution of ritual and society. It mentions that religion is universal, however, does not discuss this “God Gene”. Here is a sample of the original 2004 study “The coevolution of ritual and society: New 14C dates from ancient Mexico

“Religious ritual is one of the universals of human behavior. No society, ancient or modern, is known to have been without it. The nature of ancient ritual, however, could be vastly different depending on whether the society was a band of hunter-gatherers, an agricultural village with multiple descent groups, or an archaic state with nobles, priests, and commoners. We assume that ritual evolved with social complexity, but we need long, accurately dated cultural sequences to clarify the steps involved.


Our data suggest the following model for the coevolution of ritual and society. The nomadic annual cycle of the Archaic selected for the flexibility of ad hoc ritual, allowing dances, initiations, and courtship to take place whenever the largest group coresided. Once permanent villages were established, solar and astral events could be used to schedule key rituals. Two calendars were in use by 2450 B.P.; both are probably much older.

The first men’s houses served small descent groups excluding only the uninitiated. With emerging social inequality, men’s houses gave way to temples, the more exclusionary rituals of which were controlled by part-time specialists. The increasingly sacred nature of temple activity led to rituals of sanctification, dedicatory offerings, and escalations in bloodletting and human sacrifice.

With the rise of the state, full-time priests (often drawn from the noble stratum) began to live in the temple, creating the need for a second room. Key temples were razed and rebuilt periodically, perhaps on important calendric anniversaries.

14C dates suggest that in Oaxaca only 1,300–1,400 years elapsed between the first men’s house and the first two-room state temple. What we need now are comparable dated sequences from other world regions, allowing us to evaluate the model’s wider applicability.”

“This and other research is pointing to a new perspective on religion, one that seeks to explain why religious behavior has occurred in societies at every stage of development and in every region of the world. Religion has the hallmarks of an evolved behavior, meaning that it exists because it was favored by natural selection. It is universal because it was wired into our neural circuitry before the ancestral human population dispersed from its African homeland.

For atheists, it is not a particularly welcome thought that religion evolved because it conferred essential benefits on early human societies and their successors. If religion is a lifebelt, it is hard to portray it as useless.

For believers, it may seem threatening to think that the mind has been shaped to believe in gods, since the actual existence of the divine may then seem less likely.

But the evolutionary perspective on religion does not necessarily threaten the central position of either side. That religious behavior was favored by natural selection neither proves nor disproves the existence of gods. For believers, if one accepts that evolution has shaped the human body, why not the mind too? What evolution has done is to endow people with a genetic predisposition to learn the religion of their community, just as they are predisposed to learn its language. With both religion and language, it is culture, not genetics, that then supplies the content of what is learned.

It is easier to see from hunter-gatherer societies how religion may have conferred compelling advantages in the struggle for survival. Their rituals emphasize not theology but intense communal dancing that may last through the night. The sustained rhythmic movement induces strong feelings of exaltation and emotional commitment to the group. Rituals also resolve quarrels and patch up the social fabric.

The ancestral human population of 50,000 years ago, to judge from living hunter-gatherers, would have lived in small, egalitarian groups without chiefs or headmen. Religion served them as an invisible government. It bound people together, committing them to put their community’s needs ahead of their own self-interest. For fear of divine punishment, people followed rules of self-restraint toward members of the community. Religion also emboldened them to give their lives in battle against outsiders. Groups fortified by religious belief would have prevailed over those that lacked it, and genes that prompted the mind toward ritual would eventually have become universal.

In natural selection, it is genes that enable their owners to leave more surviving progeny that become more common. The idea that natural selection can favor groups, instead of acting directly on individuals, is highly controversial. Though Darwin proposed the idea, the traditional view among biologists is that selection on individuals would stamp out altruistic behavior (the altruists who spent time helping others would leave fewer children of their own) far faster than group-level selection could favor it.

But group selection has recently gained two powerful champions, the biologists David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson, who argued that two special circumstances in recent human evolution would have given group selection much more of an edge than usual. One is the highly egalitarian nature of hunter-gatherer societies, which makes everyone behave alike and gives individual altruists a better chance of passing on their genes. The other is intense warfare between groups, which enhances group-level selection in favor of community-benefiting behaviors such as altruism and religion.

A propensity to learn the religion of one’s community became so firmly implanted in the human neural circuitry, according to this new view, that religion was retained when hunter-gatherers, starting from 15,000 years ago, began to settle in fixed communities. In the larger, hierarchical societies made possible by settled living, rulers co-opted religion as their source of authority. Roman emperors made themselves chief priest or even a living god, though most had the taste to wait till after death for deification. “Drat, I think I’m becoming a god!” Vespasian joked on his deathbed.

Religion was also harnessed to vital practical tasks such as agriculture, which in the first societies to practice it required quite unaccustomed forms of labor and organization. Many religions bear traces of the spring and autumn festivals that helped get crops planted and harvested at the right time. Passover once marked the beginning of the barley festival; Easter, linked to the date of Passover, is a spring festival.

Could the evolutionary perspective on religion become the basis for some kind of detente between religion and science? Biologists and many atheists have a lot of respect for evolution and its workings, and if they regarded religious behavior as an evolved instinct they might see religion more favorably, or at least recognize its constructive roles. Religion is often blamed for its spectacular excesses, whether in promoting persecution or warfare, but gets less credit for its staple function of patching up the moral fabric of society. But perhaps it doesn’t deserve either blame or credit. If religion is seen as a means of generating social cohesion, it is a society and its leaders that put that cohesion to good or bad ends. (from:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/weekinreview/12wade.html)

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Barbara Frale, a Vatican researcher, claims to have discovered Christ’s ‘death certificate’ on the Turin Shroud.

By Nick Squires in Rome – The historian and researcher at the secret Vatican archive said she has found the words “Jesus Nazarene” on the shroud, proving it was the linen cloth which was wrapped around Christ’s body.

Barbara Frale said computer analysis of photographs of the shroud revealed extremely faint words Photo: AP

She said computer analysis of photographs of the shroud revealed extremely faint words written in Greek, Aramaic and Latin which attested to its authenticity.

Her claim was immediately contested by scholars who said that radiocarbon dating tests in 1988 showed the shroud to be a medieval forgery.

Dr Frale asserts in a new book, The Shroud of Jesus the Nazarene, that computer enhancement enabled her to detect the archaic script, which appears on various parts of the material.

She suggested that it was written by low-ranking Roman officials or mortuary clerks on a scroll or piece of papyrus to identify Christ’s corpse. Such a document would have enabled the relatives of a dead person to retrieve a body from a communal morgue, she suggested.

It would have been attached to the corpse with a flour-based glue and the ink could have seeped through into the cloth below, leaving a faint imprint.

Scholars first noticed that there was writing on the shroud in 1978 but when the radiocarbon tests a decade later suggested that the shroud was a forgery, historians lost interest in the script, Dr Frale said.

She claimed she had been able to decipher a jumble of phrases written in three languages, including the Greek words (I)esou(s) Nnazarennos, or Jesus the Nazarene, and (T)iber(iou), which she interprets as Tiberius, the Roman emperor at the time of Christ’s crucifixion.

The text also mentions that the man who was wrapped in the shroud had been condemned to death, she believes. The hidden text was in effect the “burial certificate” for Jesus Christ, Dr Frale said.

“I tried to be objective and leave religious issues aside,” she said. “What I studied was an ancient document that certifies the execution of a man, in a specific time and place.”

But other experts were sceptical. “People work on grainy photos and think they see things,” said Antonio Lombatti, a church historian who has written books about the shroud. “It’s all the result of imagination and computer software.” (from:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/6617018/Jesus-Christs-death-certificate-found-on-Turin-Shroud.html)

Dr Frale said that the text could not have been written by a medieval Christian because it did not refer to Jesus as Christ but as “the Nazarene”. This would have been “heretical” in the Middle Ages since it defined Jesus as “only a man” rather than the Son of God. (From:http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article6925371.ece)

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I realize this news release is a year old now, but I find this interesting.

Bowl dated between late 2nd century B.C. and the early 1st century A.D.

By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News – A team of scientists led by renowned French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio recently announced that they have found a bowl, dating to between the late 2nd century B.C. and the early 1st century A.D., that is engraved with what they believe could be the world’s first known reference to Christ.

If the word “Christ” refers to the Biblical Jesus Christ, as is speculated, then the discovery may provide evidence that Christianity and paganism at times intertwined in the ancient world.

The full engraving on the bowl reads, “DIA CHRSTOU O GOISTAIS,” which has been interpreted by the excavation team to mean either, “by Christ the magician” or, “the magician by Christ.”


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I thought this was a nice short interview with Anne Rice to share. It reveals some insights into Rice’s personal struggling with religion throughout most of her writing career. This is something that I’ve previously noticed, and it is very easy to see in her books. Many of the main characters have religious struggles, mainly they have a hard time accepting that they are damned beyond redemption. Rice also talks about her new series Angel Time. Anne Rice has been my favorite author since I was a young teenager. I have read (or at least own, yet to read) most of her books. There is no author who is more descriptive. I have yet to read any of her books post conversion back to Catholicism. When I do, I will review them, of course.

‘Called out of darkness’ and into light of Christ

Anne Rice tells how her evolution of writing about vampires to angels reflected her spiritual journey from atheism to the Catholic faith

For years, Anne Rice, author of “The Vampire Chronicles” series and creator of the infamous vampire Lestat, was identified by the dark world of her own imagination. In 1998, however, she returned to the Catholic Church of her birth and in 2002 consecrated all her writing to Jesus Christ. Since then she has gone on to write two books in the “Christ the Lord” series, her spiritual confessions in “Called Out of Darkness” and the first book in her new “Song of Seraphim” series. “Angel Time,” a story of redemption wound around a metaphysical thriller, will be released Oct. 27.

Rice spoke with Our Sunday Visitor about the current pop-culture obsession with vampires, the spiritual dimensions of vampire literature and her own journey from atheism to faith.

Our Sunday Visitor: Why do people find vampires so fascinating, and what was it that drew you to them when you first started writing “The Vampire Chronicles”?

Anne Rice: I always found them fascinating because they were supernatural monsters that had been human beings and were still human to a large extent. I always perceived them to be powerful metaphors for the lonely one in each of us, or the alienated one, or the one who feels like a monster. I think that’s how vampire literature functions. It’s really about us, about our consciousness, our ability to contemplate our own death, and we use the vampire as a mythic figure to talk about our own selves. That has always been the case, and that is probably true of all supernatural fiction that pertains to monsters. Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is really about us and what we do with our creative power and whether we misuse it or use it correctly.

I think the vampire myth is particularly flexible and potentially profound, so it’s going to keep exciting people each time a new author comes along and uses it in a different way. Bram Stoker obviously being the first, and Sheridan le Fanu, one of the others of the 19th century. … I brought something new to it in the minds of the public, and now at the present time we have new writers like Charlaine Harris and Stephenie Meyer bringing their new wrinkle to it all. I’m not surprised that people are interested. I think it’s built into the story itself of the vampire, the human being who becomes a monster who feeds off fellow human beings and who is doomed really to live in both worlds — the world of the living and the world of the dead. I think a lot of us feel that’s what we’re doing, and so we identify with the vampire; we respond to him with sympathy. (more…)

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