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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Morning Star

The Morning Star on Christmas

For years they’ve argued about whether the “Star in the East” the magi talked about in Matthew’s gospel actually was a bright celestial event, a supernova, or just some prophesy or what. I suppose the argument will continue but I caught a most interesting new development the other day that may well be the real answer.

In the northern hemisphere our earth’s axis points toward Polarus, or the North Star. And all around it are a sphere of stars. The sphere appears to rotate around the Polarus axis as if one were standing inside a globe imprinted with the stars. All the stars are fixed in orientation to one another as one might expect, except for moon and sun and seven visible planets. Since earth’s axis is tilted 23.5 degrees with respect to the planetary plane of movements, these “wandering stars” move around and slowly progress through a belt that is 47 degrees wide --the same belt where the sun and moon come up and progress across the sky. That is, they come up somewhere in the east and progress across the southern sky and then set in the west. If you go out about 9 o’clock this time of year and look south, you’ll see the constellation Aries. As the night progresses the dome of stars moves from east to west and Pisces, then Aquarius come into that dead south position. As the months go by, the dozen or so constellations, named by ancient astronomers for the star formations, will rotate through the dome of stars so that each month a new constellation will be dead south and so forth. The ancient astronomers named the months, not for the prominent constellations that are straight south in early evening but for the one that is rising in the east as the sun sets. So Leo, the southern constellation in April is the east-rising constellation in July and that is the month designated as Leo. There is a lot of spooky belief about astronomers and astrologers today, but the astrologers were just fledgling scientists. They labored under the mistaken belief that if one could predict the seasons and crops from the movement of the heavens, then surely one could predict more good stuff from really studying the stars. And what interested the astrologers was not the fixed dome of stars but the wanderers—planets and moon. What they really thought significant was the times when the wanderers came very close together or crossed paths in their march across the sky.

A historian was looking at some ancient coins a few years ago. One side of a coin usually has a “head” of an important ruler or god, while the other side is “tails” which often had a commemorated event such as an important victory. On one side of a Syrian-minted coin just a few years after the birth of Christ, was a “head” of the god Zeus, king of the gods, and on the other was a ram looking over his shoulder at a very large star. The Ram is the constellation Aries. Was there a significant event that took place in Aries some time around the birth of Jesus? Well, it turns out that there was a stunning astrological event. During the month of April, 4 BC, the constellation Aries would have been rising just before daybreak. And planet Jupiter (or 'Zeus' as it was known then) was in Aries. The moon, which moves back 50 minutes each night in it’s sky position, would have been very very near the planet Jupiter just before dawn on April 17. In fact the moon, when it comes up just before the sun is a thin sliver (since we face mainly the dark side of the moon). And at about 35 degrees north latitude you would see Jupiter, which looks like a very bright star, just on the edge of the moon as if connected. Just north of 35 degrees you wouldn’t see Jupiter at all since the moon would be eclipsing it. Astrologically this is big stuff. Jupiter was called Zeus by the Greco-Roman world—king of the gods. The moon-star event is seen “in the east” just before daybreak, “the morning star”. And the constellation Aries, the Ram, was identified with the tiny nation of Judea astrologically. So here was born a king among the Jews, king above all gods. Oh, and April 17 was just after Passover of the Jews that year.

“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin…” begins the story in Luke 1:26ff. The Jewish calendar starts in March and months are lunar so they are only 29 days long. Since 12 months doesn’t add up to a year, there are some years that begin very early in March and last 13 months. At any rate the sixth month is late July or August. And nine months later is April. “some shepherds were abiding in the field laying watch over their flocks by night” says Luke 2. Those passages are the only two hints about the time of year when Jesus was born. But the only time shepherds and sheep would have been ‘in fields’ rather than out to pasture is in the winter rainy season, Dec. to March—or early April if the ground was wet. Oh, and 4 BC is significant since that is the well-chronicled year Herod the Great died. He’s the paranoid king in the story of the Magi. And it was during this 'abiding in the fields' wintering-over that ewes had lambs and were given shelter under outcrops or caves in the cliffs around Bethlehem and fed supplemental hay in mangers. So most scholars think Jesus was born in or around early April of 4 BC.

But who, among the astrologers would think to travel to Judea and scout for a king that was born? Who, outside of little Judea would have known? The Jews had been conquered by the Babylonians 500 years before and during this time the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah foretold of a coming M’shia (Messiah), or “anointed one”, that is, “a king” expected among the Jews. The Greeks and Romans wouldn’t have heard this. So the magi (that is,the Babylonian word for “astrologers”) came from what we call Iraq today, seeking a king born among the Jews that would become ruler of everyone, king of kings and Lord of Lords. What irony that the former conquerers and oppressors had now come to find a king among the Jews.

And as one Messianic Jew (believers in Jesus Christ) said, “wouldn’t it be just too good, too fitting, if Jesus was born on Passover 4 BC and died on Passover?”

Merry Christmas everyone.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Who killed Jesus?

I watched History Channel's "Who Really Killed Jesus" again last night. Their historical critical study of Passion week sums up well the historical critic views on what really went on during Jesus's trial and execution. They seem to agree that Jesus was a real life character, that he was executed by the Romans, was tried by Pilate. All those things were often held as myths when I was in college years ago. But they concluded that the 4 gospels had embellished these facts with fiction about those involved. In other words, the dialog was made up.

That Jesus was real seems evidenced easily by the fact that so many people were willing to die as martyrs for believing in him, that his disciples spread his message far and wide. And the primary and original belief of these Christians was that Jesus had risen from the dead. People just don't behave that way unless they are inspired. But then the archeologists have found a structure called the Tiberium, some sort of shrine to the Emperor Tiberius at the time, that was built by the Roman Praefect Pontius Pilate. A Praefect is like a military governor. So there went all the arguments that there was no Pontius Pilate. In fact they now concede that he was the guy who ruled Palestine after 26 AD.

Then they argued that whereas Pilate ruled from Caesaria, he also had a residence in Jerusalem which he would occupy to keep order and that he no doubt went there to observe Passover and put his troops on alert. Living "up on the Hill" made him part of the neighborhood of the rich Sadducee Jews who ran the temple so no doubt he was the closest of buddies to them. Indeed they were in charge of bringing in the money and he was in charge of transmitting tribute to Rome. (I find this preposterous. People often live in the same neighborhood or have similar interests but have no affinity for each other.) Moreover, Pilate's name indicates he was from a southern Italian tribe that was a rogue province of Rome. Few from there achieved much authority and they were distrusted. Pilate may have been one of the most promoted of those people. And he got there by his probable service in Germany where the Romans conquered in some of the most brutal battles ever fought by Rome. Josephus writes that Pilate was violent, shrewd, and killed Jews for hardly any reason. But then Josephus was probably making an editorial point that Pilate had abused the Jews. Nonetheless, Palestine was a rebellious place that wouldn't pay the Roman tax, and Romans probably sent a harsh man to govern. Blood meant nothing to this guy.

Thus the assumption that Pilate killed Jesus and that the Jews have been hung with guilt by the Christian writers. And that all the dialog between Jesus and Pilate was probably trumped up. (May I make a point: the first gospels were written in the 60's AD when Christianity was just a sect of Jews, so there was not so much motive to skewer the Jews with guilt in Matthew and Mark at least.) And that Pilate was "not a wishy-washy man as portrayed in the gospels". By this time I'm amused. So where in the gospels is Pilate declared wishy-washy? I do seem to remember a woman who taught my second grade Sunday School class who thought he was that way, but if you closely look at the text, it portrays him as smart and shrewd character who seems to have his eyes squinted in disbelief at the Jewish motives. Those Jewish leaders, whose fathers ran an independent state, and who are prime suspects as hating the Roman presence, have brought a penniless holy man forward and charged him with bogus kingship. Yes, Pilate's first thought was probably "away with him," and his first question was to the point, "Are you the King of the Jews?" But he has to be thinking why the dickens did these powerful Jews feel so threatened by this Jesus guy? What the heck are they up to? As I read the text it seems that Pilate is gaming the Jews, trying to make them tell about their motivations. From his perspective, this is all about the head Jews, not Jesus.

Imagine you are a conservative and head of the CIA. All the guys who work under you are liberals however, former State Dept. guys who were transferred by Obama. One day the crew brings you a file on some elderly Arab-American grandmother who has lived in the United States for 60 years peacefully. They know that terrorism is a hot button issue with you and they claim she is a terrorist. They begin to describe her with racist vitriol against Arabs that they think might somehow resonate with you, since that is how they see conservatives. Would you be suspect of their motives? Would you wonder why such an unlikely terrorist was brought to your attention? That's how I see Pilate.

In the end, of course, Pilate games the Jewish leaders all the way to the point of washing his hands of the judgment and nailing a flagrant sign over Jesus "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews". He's testing them. And the Sadducees practically turn themselves inside out trying to prove their undying loyalty to Rome. (By the way, many Jews read the gospels and conclude that it is sad how people under submission will act toward their fellow man--as in the concentration camps where some snitches tried to curry Nazi favors)

Now here's the interesting thing about the historical critics. These otherwise smart folks hang their entire "disproof" on what they infer as a friendship between Pilate and Jewish leaders. (tenuous)They proudly pronounce that Pilate was portrayed as wishy-washy by the gospels, perhaps more a popular notion with some church-goers than a faithful reading of the text. And the whole theme is to exonerate the Jews.

Well, I have news. Pilate killed him, Romans killed him, Jews killed him, everyone who has ever committed a sin killed him. That's the gospel message. And that's who really killed Jesus.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Joke of the Year

Jim sent me a forward labelled Joke of the Year, but I heard a better one from my uncle.

A little boy wrote a letter to God. He explained that they were poor and needed $100 desperately. The post office saw the letter sent to "God, USA" and so they forwarded it to Obama. He read it and chuckled and thinking that a little boy wouldn't know much about money told his secretary to send the boy $5. When the little boy got it he sat down and immediately wrote a thank you note to God.

Dear God,

I want to thank you so much for sending me the money. But somehow your letter got routed through Washington, DC and those devils took 95% of it! Thanks anyway.