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I was born, I'm currently living, and will eventually die. After that I face my judgment, and we'll talk then.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cryptozological claim proven?

Welcome to another Cryptozoology post. This time it has nothing to do with Montauk Monsters or some other thing washed up on a beach. It has to do with giant birds. Freaking huge birds, to be more accurate.

I heard about this in this article. How could you possibly resist reading an article like that? Anyway, the article is a scientific one, not a "what if" one, which gives it an air of credibility. However, the story made me think of one thing: Thunderbirds.

Not Thunder Cats. Thunderbirds. And I'm not talking about cars either.

Thunderbirds are, according to the legends, large flying birds that fly before thunderstorms. Native American legends have them as the explanation for thunder and lightning. For those of you into Pokemon, Zapdos (from the original 151 set) is based on this legend of a Thunderbird.

Another part of the legend is that these giant birds would swoop down and eat people, specifically small children. This appears in the Native American accounts, as well as the accounts from the Maori legends. On July 25, 1977, two thunderbirds reportedly swooped down and tried to carry of a ten-year old boy who was playing in the yard with his friends. Between his struggling and his mother's yelling, the bird dropped the boy and flew away. Similarly large birds have been sighted in different parts of the world for centuries.

There may be a link between the legends of the Native Americans and the legends of the Maori. More investigation is needed into the thunderbird legends and similar legends throughout the world, but this recent is more evidence that dismissing claims of "primitive" groups of people is not only mean, it is also bad science.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Lost in High School

The Historical Milieu of Christ's birth

Part 1 - Rome

On December 25, Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (the exception being the Russian Orthodox Christians, who celebrate Christmas on January 7). It is a feast that has become riddled with controversy, as men for the last few hundred years have sought to minimize its significance. For the Christian, the birth of the World’s Savior is obviously an event of great significance; for the historian, likewise, the birth of arguably the most important man in history bears more than a little importance. As a Christian historian, therefore, it is almost a requirement that I should examine the history surrounding the birth of Jesus, and see how exactly God prepared the world for his coming.

We begin in Rome. Although Christ’s life took place in Palestine, formally small Italian city of Rome controlled Palestine and the rest of the known world at the time of the Incarnation. In the twilight of the era before Christ, Rome was celebrating her second emperor, Caesar Augustus. Augustus had brought Rome out of the civil war that followed the assassination of his uncle, Julius Caesar. For the first time in centuries, Rome was at peace, no longer involved wars of conquest or internal disputation. It was a time known as the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace. Augustus made sure the city of Rome, and thereby the entire empire, remembered this period of peace. In particular, he closed the temple of Janus, a Roman god (where we get the name for the month January). This temple was used primarily in praying for peace. Sacrifices were offered in the hope that something like the Pax Romana would occur. When it did happen, as hoped, there was no need for the temple to stay open. Augustus, in a lavish ceremony, placed a Roman military spear across the doors of the temple, officially declaring the Empire in a state of peace. This lasted until after his death. Christ was born before Augustus’s death, and thus the Prince fo Peace was born in a time of universal peace.

This peaceful precedent was not the only preparation for Christ’s coming that involved Caesar Augustus. Augustus became emperor of Rome in 29 BC around the age of 34. As he got older, he became more beloved, and some senators sought to erect a temple to Augustus. Augustus was unsure if he should allow it, so he sought the advice of an oracle. The sibyl there told Augustus that a greater king would come and rule Rome. Augustus went out, and then he saw a vision. The sky opened and a woman holding an infant appeared. The sibyl told Augustus that the infant was to be the divine ruler of the world. Augustus told the senators, who agreed to build a temple at the spot to a virgin goddess. The historical details of the vision are sketchy, and the above story comes more from a medieval manuscript than a life of Augustus. However, there is some archaeological evidence that the story predates the medieval legend (See Paul F. Burke, “Augustus and Christianity in Myth and Legend,” New England Classical Journal 32, No. 3 (2005) 213-220).

Related to Augustus’s vision is the Fourth Eclogue of Virgil. Virgil, a Latin poet more famous for his epic poem The Aenead, wrote some smaller poems called eclogues. The fourth of these, written around 40 BC, refers to a young boy who will rule Heaven and Earth. The initial prompt for such a poem was probably Augustus’s expected victory (since he had not yet completely squashed his enemies); however, the poem so closely resembles a passage from Isaiah that some scholars believe Virgil was inspired by the prophecies of the prophet concerning the coming Messiah as recorded in the Septuagint, which was popular reading for some Romans. The boy in the poem is linked with Lucina, the goddess “who brings children into light,” a proper association for the Hebraic Messiah. Concerning the boy, Virgil also says,

He shall receive the life of gods, and see
Heroes with gods commingling, and himself
Be seen of them, and with his father's worth
Reign o'er a world at peace.

As mentioned above, Augustus was responsible for the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace, and could very well be the boy destined to rule the world in peace mentioned in the poem. The similarity to Isaiah, though, is too close to ignore, particularly because Isaiah refers to the Messiah as the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Virgil also notes, interestingly enough, that “The serpent too shall die,” as one of the results of his Messiah’s coming. Did he make the connection between Genesis 3:15 and the coming Jewish Messiah? Virgil was a smart man, and if he had read much of the Septuagint, he might have followed the systematic thought behind the Jewish writers, and he very well might have connected the prophecies from Genesis to those found in Isaiah. The prophetic poem that makes up the Fourth Eclogue is too similar to Hebraic prophecies of Christ to be a coincidence.

One last event in Rome closes this first part of examining the milieu surrounding Christ’s birth. Virgil noted in his above mentioned eclogue that the Earth will erupt with joy for the arrival of the Messiah:

For thee, O boy,
First shall the earth, untilled, pour freely forth
Her childish gifts, the gadding ivy-spray.

This sounds simply like an artistic description of the Earth’s joy in the Messiah. It would indeed be merely a literary device, if something similar had not happened historically. Sometime between 38 and 30 BC, between two and ten years after Virgil composed this poem, an incredible amount of oil flowed up from the ground and spilled into the Tiber River. The oil came from the small suburb of Rome called Trestevere, though the area was at that time called Taberna Meritoria. The story is recounted not only in Christian literature (St. Jerome mentions it in his additions to Eusebius Chronicle of the Church, and another Christian writer named Paulus Orosius draws the connection between the Pax Romana, the oil, and the coming of Christ) but also in a pagan Roman history by Dio Cassius, who wrote in his Roman History (XLVIII, 43), “Now many events of a portentous nature had occurred even before this, such as the spouting of olive oil on the bank of the Tiber, and many also at this time.” (The translator makes a note that the word translated as “olive oil” can also mean regular oil). The story is one of history, not merely of Christian legend. Whether it directly predicts the birth of Christ is another matter, but the fact that it is so close chronologically to Virgil’s seemingly prophetic poem makes the connection between the birth of Christ and the bubbling oil seem reasonable. This is not the only instance of physical phenomenon happening in concurrence with Christ’s birth (the more famous example, the Star of Bethlehem, is examined later in this series). It seems all of creation awaited the blessed event of the Incarnation.

We have examined preparations for the Messiah in the capital imperial city of Rome. Next time, we will examine how other parts of the world, particularly to the east of Palestine, prepared for the coming of Christ.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

and now for something completely different.

We need an uplifting post. Here's one of those emails that everyone gets and forwards to everyone who already got it. Well, who would do that when I've got a BLOG!

This reminds me of the book 1066 and All That, which I highly recommend.


3050 B.C.- A Sumerian invents the wheel. Within the week, the idea is stolen
and duplicated by other Sumerians, there-by establishing the business ethic
for all times.

2900 B.C.- Wondering why the Egyptians call that new thing a Sphinx becomes
the first of the world's Seven Great Wonders.

1850 B.C.- Britons proclaim Operation Stonehenge a success. They've finally
gotten those boulders arranged in a sufficiently meaningless pattern to
confuse scientists for centuries.

1785 B.C.- The first calendar, composed of a year with 354 days, is
introduced by Babylonian scientists.

1768 B.C.- Babylonians realize something is wrong when winter begins in

776 B.C.- The world's first known money appears in Persia, immediately
causing the world's first known counterfeiter to appear in Persia the next

525 B.C.- The first Olympics are held, and prove similar to the modern
games, except that the Russians don't try to enter a six-footer with a
mustache in the women's shot put. However, the Egyptians do!

410 B.C.- Rome ends the practice of throwing debtors into slavery, thus
removing the biggest single obstacle to the development of the credit card.

404 B.C.- The Peloponnesian war has been going on for 27 years now because
neither side can find a treaty writer who knows how to spell Peloponnesian.

214 B.C.- Tens of thousands of Chinese labor for a gener-ation to build the
1,500 mile long Great Wall of China. And after all that, it still doesn't
keep the neighbor's dog out.

1 B.C.- Calendar manufacturers find themselves in total dis-agreement over
what to call next year.

79 A.D.- Buying property in Pompeii turns out to have been a lousy real
estate investment.

432- St. Patrick introduces Christianity to Ireland, thereby giving the
natives something interesting to fight about for the rest of their recorded

1000- Leif Ericsson discovers America, but decides it's not worth

1043- Lady Godiva finds a means of demonstrating against high taxes that
immediately makes everyone forget what she is demonstrating against.

1125- Arabic numerals are introduced to Europe, enabling peasants to solve
the most baffling problem that confronts them: How much tax do you owe on
MMMDCCCLX Lira when you're in the XXXVI percent bracket?

1233- The Inquisition is set up to torture and kill anyone who disagrees
with the Law of the Church. However, the practice is so un-Christian that it
is permitted to continue for only 600 years.

1297- The world's first stock exchange opens, but no one has the foresight
to buy IBM or Xerox.

1433- Portugal launches the African slave trade, which just proves what a
small, ambitious country can do with a little bit of ingenuity and a whole
lot of evil!

1456- An English judge reviews Joan of Arc's case and cancels her death
sentence. Unfortunately for her, she was put to death in 1431.

1492- Columbus proves how lost he really is by landing in the Bahamas,
naming the place San Salvador, and calling the people who live there

1497- Amerigo Vespucci becomes the 7th or 8th explorer to discover the new
world, but the first to think of naming it in honor of himself...the United
States of Vespuccia!

1508- Michelangelo finally agrees to paint the ceiling of the Sistine
Chapel, but he still refuses to wash the windows.

1513- Ponce de Leon claims he found the Fountain of Youth, but dies of old
age trying to remember where it was he found it.

1522- Scientists, who know the world is flat, conclude that Magellan made it
all the way around by crawling across the bottom.

1568- Saddened over the slander of his good name, Ivan the Terrible kills
another 100,000 peasants to make them stop calling him Ivan the Terrible.

1607- The Indians laugh themselves silly as the first Euro-pean tourist to
visit Virginia tries to register as "John Smith."

1618- Future Generations are doomed as the English exe-cute Sir Walter
Raleigh, but allow his tobacco plants to live.

1642- Nine students receive the first Bachelor of Arts degrees conferred in
America, and immediately discover there are no jobs open for a kid with a
liberal arts education.

1670- The pilgrims are too busy burning false witches to observe the golden
anniversary of their winning religious freedom.

1755- Samuel Johnson issues the first English Dictionary, at last providing
young children with a book they can look up dirty words in.

1758- New Jersey is chosen as the site of America's first Indian
reservation, which should give Indians an idea of the kind of shabby living
conditions they can expect from here on out.

1763- The French and Indian War ends. The French and Indians both lost.

1770- The shooting of three people in the Boston Massacre touches off the
Revolution. 200 Years later, three shootings in Boston will be considered
just about average for a Sat-urday Night.

1773- Colonists dump tea into Boston Harbor. British call the act
"barbaric," noting that no one added cream.

1776- Napoleon decides to maintain a position of neutrality in the American
Revolution, primarily because he is only seven years old.

1779- John Paul Jones notifies the British, "I have just begun to fight!"
... and then feels pretty foolish when he discovers that his ship is

1793- "Let them eat cake!" becomes the most famous thing Marie Antoinette
ever said. Also, the least diplomatic thing she ever said. Also, the last
thing she ever said.

1799- Translation of the Rosetta Stone finally enables scholars to learn
that Egyptian hieroglyphics don't say anything important. "Dear Ramses, How
are you? I am fine."

1805- Robert Fulton invents the torpedo.

1807- Robert Fulton invents the steamship so he has something to blow up
with his torpedo.

1815- Post Office policy is established as Andrew Jackson wins the Battle of
New Orleans a month after he should have received the letter telling him the
War of 1812 is over.

1840- William Henry Harrison is elected president in a landslide, proving
that the campaign motto, "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" is so meaningless that
very few can disagree with it.

1850- Henry Clay announces, "I'd rather be right than president," which gets
quite a laugh, coming from a guy who has run for president five times
without winning.

1859- Charles Darwin writes "Origin of the Species". It has the same
general plot as "Planet of the Apes," but fails to gross as much money.

1865- Union Soldiers face their greatest challenge of the war: getting
General Grant sober enough to accept Lee's surrender.

1894- Thomas Edison displays the first motion picture, and everybody likes
it except the movie critics.

1903- The opening of the Trans-Siberian Railway enables passengers from
Moscow to reach Vladivostok in eight days, which is a lot sooner than most
of them want to get there.

1910- The founding of the Boy Scouts of America comes as bad news to old
ladies who would rather cross the street by themselves.

1911- Roald Amundsen discovers the South Pole and confirms what he's
suspected all along: It looks very much like the North Pole!

1920- The 18th Amendment to the Constitution makes drinking illegal in the
U.S. so everyone stops. Except for the 40 million who don't stop!

1928- Herbert Hoover promises "a chicken in every pot and a car in every
garage," but he neglects to add that most Americans will soon be without
pots and garages.

1930- Pluto is discovered. Not the dog, stupid; the planet. The dog wasn't
discovered until 1938.

1933- German housewives begin to realize why that crazy wallpaper hanger
with the mustache never came back to finish his work.

1934- John Dillinger is gunned down by police as he leaves a Chicago movie
theater. And just to make the evening a complete washout, he didn't enjoy
the movie either.

1934- As if the Great Depression weren't giving business-men enough
headaches, Ralph Nader is born.

1938- Great Britain and Germany sign a peace treaty, there-by averting all
possibility of WWII.