Monthly Archives: April 2015

On total love – and “the Living Vine”

The Baptism of the Eunuch, by Rembrandt  –  (the subject of today’s first reading…)

 

 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 –  I last reviewed a full set of Sunday Bible readings on March 8.

That post –  The “Big Ten” and Jesus with a whip  – included readings on the Ten Commandments and “Jesus cleansing the temple, after arming Himself with a whip of cords.”

The readings for next Sunday  –  that is, for May 3, 2015  –  are:  Acts 8:26-40, Psalm 22:24-30, 1 John 4:7-21, and John 15:1-8.  Or see Fifth Sunday of Easter.  Here are some highlights.

The first reading – Acts of the Apostles – tells the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch:

Philip the Evangelist was told by an angel to go to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, and there he met the Ethiopian eunuch…    The eunuch was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah, and had come to Isaiah 53:7-8.  Philip asked the Ethiopian, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  He said[,] “How can I understand unless I have a teacher to teach me?”  …Philip told him the Gospel of Jesus, and the Ethiopian asked to be baptized.  They went down into some water and Philip baptized him.

The title page's central text is:"THE HOLY BIBLE,Conteyning the Old Testament,AND THE NEW:Newly Translated out of the Originall tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised, by his Majesties speciall Comandement.Appointed to be read in Churches.Imprinted at London by Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most Excellent Majestie.ANNO DOM. 1611 ."At bottom is:"C. Boel fecit in Richmont.".Wikipedia noted that – as a eunuch – the Ethiopian couldn’t be part of the church community.  That’s because of Deuteronomy 23:1:  “No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD.”  (In the NIV.  In the King James Version – the one that God usesshown at left the thought is put more delicately:  “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.“)

There’s even some speculation that not only was the man “born a eunuch,” but also that he was gay.  See  The Ethiopian Eunuch – There Is A Good Possibility He Was A Gay Man, which added that if the man was born a eunuch, he could be admitted to the church community, according to Jeremiah.  That is, a “physically intact, born eunuch, could enter the congregation of Israel,” according to the “Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yebamoth, Folio 81a,”  and Jeremiah 34:19.

Be that as it may…   The point of Acts 8:26-40 seems to be that God’s Love is Universal, which iss also the main lesson of the Book of Jonah.  See On Jonah and the bra-burners:

Clearly, the Book of Jonah … is the product of that school of Jewish thought which was universalist and which opposed the nationalist view…  It is the universality of God and the attribute of divine mercy that are the lessons of Jonah.  Those who think of the book as nothing more than the story of a man and a whale miss the whole point. (E.A.)

In plain words, Jonah ain’t about no stinkin’ whale!  (The whale was a sideshow.)

Turning to the Gospel, in John 15:1-8 Jesus described Himself as The True Vine, “an allegory or parable given by Jesus in the New Testament found only in the Gospel of John:”

The Old Testament passages which use this symbol appear to regard Israel as faithless to Yahweh and/or the object of severe punishment. Ezekiel 15:1–8 in particular talks about the worthlessness of wood from a vine (in relation to disobedient Judah).  A branch cut from a vine is worthless except to be burned as fuel.  This appears to fit more with the statements about the disciples than with Jesus’ description of himself as the vine.

See Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which included some of the “numerous Old Testament passages which refer to Israel as a vine.”  (And included the image at right, an “Icon of Christ as the true Vine.”)

For example, Psalm 80:8 said of God, “You transplanted a vine from Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.”  (Referring to the Exodus from Egypt and into the “land of milk and honey.”)

Consider also John 15:6, where Jesus said, “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”  He was apparently referring to Psalm 80:16.  That passage – in the NIV – referred to the same vine as Psalm 80:8, “Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire; at your rebuke your people perish.

Which just goes to show that “Jesus knew and quoted the psalms frequently (and so should we).”   See for example, On the Psalms up to September 21.

But Jesus also knew the old prophets as well.  For example, the first part of Isaiah 5 (verses 1 through 7), is commonly referred to as his “Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard,” and so Jesus seemed to be referring back to that metaphor as well. 

And see Jeremiah 2:21, in which God said (in the NIV), “I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock.  How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?”  And see also Hosea 10:1   – and also verse 2  –  read, in the GOD’S WORD® Translation:

The people of Israel are like vines that used to produce fruit.  The more fruit they produced, the more altars they built.  The more their land produced, the more stone markers they set up [to honor other gods].   They are hypocrites.  Now they must take their punishment.  God will tear down their altars and destroy their stone markers.  (E.A.)

Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. - The Complete First Season(For more on this prophet, see On Hosea and the prostitute, which noted in passing that Hosea 8:7 is the source of the well-known phrase to reap the whirlwind, as derived in turn “from the proverbial phrase ‘They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.’”  That post included the image at left, with the caption:  “But no, not that Gomer…”  (Gomer was Hosea’s wife.))

And finally, see What did Jesus mean … “I am the True Vine?”  It noted first that this was the “last of seven I am declarations of Jesus recorded only in John’s Gospel.”  (In all seven – found only in John’s Gospel  – Jesus “combines I AM with tremendous metaphors which express His saving relationship toward the world.”  See I am for the full list.)   Then came this:

He said that no branch can even live, let alone produce leaves and fruit, by itself.  Cut off from the trunk, a branch is dead.  Just as a vine’s branches rely on being connected to the trunk from which they receive their energy to bear fruit, Jesus’ disciples depend on being connected to Him for their spiritual life and the ability to serve Him effectively.

All of which goes to show first that God’s love is universal, and second that we should try to imitate that all-encompassing love.  Or as Jesus aptly summarized the entire Bible:

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ said:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your mind.  This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it:  you shall love your neighbor as yourself.   On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

That’s from Matthew 22, verses 37-40, emphasis added.  See also On “what a drag it is,” which referred to this “‘Cliff’s-Note’ summary given by Jesus.”

In plain words, our goal in life should be to “live in full communion,” with both God and even our most obnoxious neighbor.  (And be good stewards of nature besides…)

 

Earth Day Flag created by John McConnell…”

 

The upper image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article:  Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.

Re: Jeremiah 34:19.  Part of a passage where Jeremiah warned of an apparent upcoming judgment:

And those who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make like[c] the calf when they cut it in two and passed between its parts: 19 the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf 20 shall be handed over to their enemies and to those who seek their lives. Their corpses shall become food for the birds of the air and the wild animals of the earth. (E.A.)

The “between the parts of the calf” referred back to Genesis 15, regarding God making a covenant with Abraham:  “Then [God] said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’ But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ 10  He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other…”  (The “cutting” ceremony effectively sealed the contract.)

The “King James” image is courtesy of King James Version – Wikipedia, with the caption: 

The title page to the 1611 first edition of the Authorized Version Bible by Cornelis Boel shows the Apostles Peter and Paul seated centrally above the central text, which is flanked by Moses and Aaron.  In the four corners sit Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, authors of the four gospels, with their symbolic animals.  The rest of the Apostles (with Judas facing away) stand around Peter and Paul.  At the very top is the Tetragrammaton “יהוה”.

The lower image is courtesy of Earth Day – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  See also Remembering the Purpose of Earth Day  –  which was yesterday, April 28  –  and also Pope Francis Urges All People to Protect the Earth On 45th Anniversary of Earth Day.

For a contrasting take on the “politics” of Pope Francis,” see On the “Gospel of Marx.”

On St. Mark’s “Cinderella story”

https://arthistoriesroom.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/st-mark-1621.jpg

St. Mark, by Hendrick ter Brugghen

 

April 25 is the Feast Day for Saint Mark.  He wrote the first and shortest of the four Gospels.

“In Christian tradition, Mark the Evangelist, the author of the second gospel is symbolized by a lion – a figure of courage and monarchy.”  (See Wikipedia.)  But that “second Gospel” phrase doesn’t mean his wasn’t the first account of the life of Jesus.  As Isaac Asimov noted:

Matthew is [listed as the] first of the gospels in the New Testament because, according to early tradition, it was the first to be written.  This, however, is now doubted by nearly everyone.  The honor of primacy is generally granted to Mark, which is the second gospel in the Bible as it stands.

(770)  There’s more below on how Mark’s is (or was) the most “dissed” of the Gospels…

But first note that the word “gospel” is from the old Anglo-Saxon “god spell,” meaning “good news.”  The Greek form of the word is “evangelos,” which translates to “bringing good news.”

It should also be noted that the Gospels themselves were predated by one or more “letters” in the New Testament.  (Either Epistle of James or First Epistle to Timothy, depending on the cite.)

So anyway, the writer of this first-in-time Gospel is generally identified as the same John Mark who “carried water to the house where the Last Supper took place” in Mark 14:13, or the “young man who ran away naked when Jesus was arrested” in Mark 14:51.  (As shown at right.)  See also Acts 12:25:  “Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.

And see Overview Of The Four Gospels – PBS, which said that it was Mark who made the “first attempt to tell the story of the life and the death of Jesus.”  And so it could be said that Mark “began the gospel tradition:”

The gospel of Mark is the second to appear in the New Testament, [but it] was composed first…  The way Mark tells the story suggests that his audience lived outside the homeland [i.e., outside present-day Israel], spoke Greek rather than Aramaic, and was not familiar with Jewish customs.  While there is disagreement about where Mark wrote, there is a consensus about when he wrote:  he probably composed his work in or about the year 70 CE, after the failure of the First Jewish Revolt and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple at the hands of the Romans.  That destruction shapes how Mark tells his story. (E.A.)

Which brings up the question of what message Mark wanted to convey, to his troubled audience.  The consensus is that he wrote his Gospel right after the First Jewish Revolt and the Roman army’s sack of Jerusalem.  Thus one answer is:  Mark deliberately constructed a “bleak and frightening picture because that was the experience of the people” he was writing to.  In other words he merely reflected the great persecution suffered by his audience.

Then there’s the matter of the Great Commission, generally placed at the end of his Gospel.  (See Mark 16:15, up to verse 18. )   The question is:  Did Mark himself write it at all?

According to some critics … Jesus never speaks with his disciples after his resurrection.  They argue that the original Gospel of Mark ends at verse [8, i.e., Mark 16:8] with the women leaving the tomb (see Mark 16).

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/21/The_Holy_Women_at_the_Sepulchre_by_Peter_Paul_Rubens.jpgNote that Mark 16:8 says, “they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  (As shown at left.)  Which would of course have been a bad place to end a Gospel of hope.

But another scholar – Elaine Pagels – added an interesting twist herself.  She noted that those last words would have been “very bad news” indeed, “if it weren’t that underneath this rather dark story is an enormous hope.”

That is, just as the disciples experienced days of anguish the death of Jesus and Easter morning, there was a rest of the story.  And so it would be for Mark’s audience, even suffering as they did.

In other words, this “terrible anguished [original] ending is nevertheless not the ending:”

That there’s a mystery in it, a divine mystery of God’s revelation that will happen yet.  And I think it’s that sense of hope that is deeply appealing.

See Story Of The Storytellers – The Gospel Of Mark, part of the PBS article above, emphasis added.  And the emphasized word brings up the fact that Christianity has arguably been – all along – a “mystical” religion, full of mysteries; “secret, hidden, not readily known by all.”

For example, see 1st Corinthians 2:7, where Paul spoke of “the word of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom.”  He spoke of the “knowledge in the mystery of Christ” in Ephesians 3:4, and of the “fellowship of the mystery” in Ephesians 3:9.  In Ephesians 5:32 he wrote, “This is a great [or “profound”] mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”  Paul told Christians to “make known the mystery of the gospel” in Ephesians 6:19, and to hold “the mystery of the faith” – or the “deep truths” – in a “pure conscience” in 1st Timothy 3:9.  He said that “great is the mystery of godliness” in 1st Timothy 3:16, and in 1 Corinthians 4:1, Paul said that Christians were to be faithful “stewards of the mysteries of God.”

(And by the way, that “mystery” word doesn’t bode well for those who take the Bible too literally.  But we don’t want to beat that dead horse any more than already done throughout this blog…)

Suffice it to say:  Mark was the first to try to “explain this mystery,” a mystery that baffles many people “even to this day.”  (See 2 Corinthians 3:15, re:  the veil that “covers their hearts.)

So anyway, you can see the full set of Bible readings for the Feast Day at St. Mark.  The readings: Isaiah 52:7-10, Psalm 2, Ephesians 4:7-8,11-16, and Mark 1:1-15 or Mark 16:15-20.

And before closing it should be noted that the Gospel of Mark itself presents a kind of Cinderella story.  As Wills noted in What the Gospels Meant, for many centuries the Early Church Fathers pretty much neglected Mark’s Gospel.  (St. Augustine – being “converted” at right – called Mark “the drudge and condenser” of Matthew.)

For one thing, Mark’s written Greek was “clumsier and more awkward” than the more-polished Matthew, Luke and John.  As a result, Mark’s was the “least cited Gospel in the early Christian period.”  But “this Cinderella got her glass slipper,” beginning in the 19th century.

That’s when Bible scholars finally noticed the other three Gospels all cited material from Mark, but “he does not do the same for them.”  The conclusion?  Mark started the process and set the pattern of and for the other three Gospels.  And as a result of that, since the 19th century Marks’ “has become the most studied and influential Gospel.”

He is long held by the Catholic church to be one of the four living creatures (the lion), along with Matthew (man), Luke (calf), and John (eagle) of Revelation 4/ four main 6 winged Seraphim of Isaiah 6 constantly shouting around the Heavenly Father’s throne “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;  The whole earth is full of His glory.”  Mark [is] said to have founded the Church of Alexandria, one of the most important episcopal sees of Early Christianity.  His feast day is celebrated on April 25, and his symbol is the winged lion.

See Mark – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  Now about the lion being his symbol…

As noted above, the lion is traditionally “a figure of courage and monarchy.”  See also the Lion of Saint Mark, which noted the symbolism began with Revelation 4:7, “The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.The lion also symbolizes “the power of the Evangelist’s word, the wings symbolize the spiritual elevation, while the halo is the traditional Christian symbol of holiness.”

Which explains some of the symbolism in the Ter Brugghen painting, including the lion at Mark’s elbow and the open book he’s reading.  (The open book can be a symbol of peace, or as a symbol of public justice.  See Lion of Saint Mark, shown at left)  And so to summarize:

In Christianity, the four living creatures are Cherubim.   A prominent early interpretation has been to equate the four creatures as a tetramorph of the Four Evangelists where the lion represents Mark the Evangelist, the calf [or “ox”] is Luke the Evangelist, the man is Matthew the Apostle, and the eagle symbolizes John the Evangelist.  This interpretation originated with Irenaeus and was adopted by Victorinus.   Its influence has been on art and sculpture and is still prevalent in Catholicism and Anglicanism.

So April 25 celebrates the man the other three Gospel-writers followed and borrowed so freely from.  The man whose work – for 18 long centuries – was largely disregarded and disrespected.  The man who finally – after 1,800 years – got the recognition he deserved.

There’s probably an object lesson there too…

 

The Four Evangelists, by Peter Paul Rubens

The upper image is courtesy of  “arthistoriesroom.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/st-mark-1621.jpg.”  See also Hendrick ter Brugghen – Wikipedia, about the Dutch painter (1588-1629), a “leading member of the Dutch followers of Caravaggio – the so-called Dutch Caravaggisti.”  Wikipedia added:

His paintings were characteristic for their bold chiaroscuro technique – the contrast produced by clear, bright surfaces alongside sombre, dark sections – but also for the social realism of the subjects, sometimes charming, sometimes shocking or downright vulgar.

For more information on other paintings of “St. Mark,” see FRANS HALS ST MARK – Colnaghi, a PDF file with the full title, “Frans Hals’ St. Mark[:] A Lost Masterpiece Rediscovered.”  The article compared paintings done of St. Mark by Ter Brugghen, Hals and others, as well as their common “painterly conventions.”  For example, the article said Mark is commonly shown “writing on a scroll” and that Mark and John “tend often to be portrayed as the more mystical figures among the Evangelists.”  It also noted the tradition of showing humanist “scholar-saints:”

However the pictorial conventions of the humanist scholar-saint, were easily transferred to the depiction of the Evangelists, and this was particularly true of St. Mark, whose iconography was so similar to that of St. Jerome, both writer saints sharing the common attribute of the lion, that the two were sometimes confused.  Since St. Jerome was a penitent saint, as well as a scholar, he was often shown at prayer accompanied by a skull[, again, as in the upper painting,]  and these penitential aspects of the iconography of St. Jerome in turn become attached also to the figure of St. Mark.  This accounts for the symbols of skull and candle which appear in the Ter Brugghen St. Mark, a version of which is described ambiguously in Slatkes’s monograph as ‘either St. Jerome or St. Mark.’  (E.A.)

Re:  Isaac Asimov.  The quote(s) cited above are from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at page 770.  And just as an aside, Asimov (1920-1992) was “an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.  Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.”  His list of books included those on “astronomy, mathematics, the Bible, William Shakespeare’s writing, and chemistry.”  He was a long-time member of Mensa, “albeit reluctantly;  he described some members of that organization as ‘brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs.’”  See Isaac Asimov – Wikipedia.

Re: the order-of-writing of the New Testament.  See Appendix 8: Chronological Order of the Books of the New Testament, which listed James as first to be written, or Bible – In what order were the books in the New Testament written, which listed “1st Timothy and Galatians” as first. 

The “Mark 16:8” image is The Three Marys at the Tomb, by Peter Paul Rubens, courtesy of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Magdalene.

Re: Wills’ “Gospels.”  See also What the Gospels Meant – Garry Wills – Book Review – New York Times:

Yet the paradox of modern Christianity is that the growth of biblical scholarship … has done so little to affect the mass of biblical illiterates who proclaim their convictions about what Jesus would do while knowing precious little about what he actually did or, more important, what he meant…   In this sense, Wills is a dangerous man. (E.A.)

Re: The symbolism of the Four Evangelists.  The skull in the upper painting generally symbolizes “the futility of vanity” and/or a “reminder of the certainty of death.”  See Symbols of the Saints – symboldictionary.net, and Vanitas – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The lower image is courtesy of Peter Paul Rubens: The Four Evangelists, which noted:  “Rubens portrayed the four evangelists while working together on their texts.  An angel helps them…   Each gospel author can be identified by an attribute.  The attributes were derived from the opening verses of the gospels.  From left to right: Luke (bull), Matthew (man [angel]), Mark (lion), and John (eagle).” See also Four Evangelists – Wikipedia, and/or Harry Truman and the next election.

 

Shadrach “et al.” and the Fiery Furnace

“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the Burning Fiery Furnace…”

 

Friday, April 17, 2015  –  The last time I reviewed a Daily Office Reading was on Friday, March 13.  That post was Jeremiah weeping and Jesus’ “stoning.”  It included this:

The last time I did background and color commentary on Daily Office Readings (DORs) was on February 20.  That post was The True Test of Faith.  It talked about how two different Christians might react if they died, and only then found out that there was no God, no afterlife and no “reward for being good.”

This post is a variation on that theme.  The theme here is:  “What is a true test of faith?

In this post the true test of faith was the threat of getting thrown into a “burning fiery furnace,” while not knowing – or even caring – if God would do anything to stop it…

Starting Monday, April 12, the Old Testament Readings (OTRs) were from the Book of Daniel.  (See Daniel 1:1-21.)   Daniel is best known for getting thrown into a lion’s den, but his book includes lots of other good stuff, including an early apocalypse.  (A better known apocalypse is the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible.)

So anyway, the OTRs from Daniel – for today and tomorrow, April 17 and 18 – tell the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  (See also Daniel 3:1-18, and 3:19-30.)

Here’s what happened.  In 606 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered Judea and its capital Jerusalem.  Then came the first of many Jewish mass deportations, and especially of:

…young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace;  they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans.

Daniel 1:4.  See also Babylonian captivity (or exile) – Wikipedia.

That is, the Babylonian Army conquered the “ancient Kingdom of Judah,” and among other things forced a number of highly-educated, upper-class Hebrews into exile.  They were then forced to serve the king in his capital city of Babylon, some 53 miles south of present-day Baghdad.

(Note also “Babylonian” and “Chaldean” are interchangeable, and refer to a tribe of nomads who first lived in now-southern-Iraq.  The map shows the Babylonian Empire at its greatest extent.)

In further words, it was the hoity-toity, the well-educated and/or upper-class Hebrews who got taken away to live in exile in Babylon.  (An exile that many of them found quite surprisingly pleasant.)  In still further words, the riffraff  got left back at home.

So anyway, getting back to the story…   Daniel and his three friends were among the “handsome young men” who got deported to Babylon and taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans.  The three friends were originally named Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, but by royal decree their original Hebrew names were changed, to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

(Daniel’s name was changed to Belteshazzar, about which more later.)

And the king gave three men prominent positions within his administration.  (They were made “administrators over the province of Babylon.” Daniel 2:49.)  But there’s always a catch…

In this case the catch was that King Nebuchadnezzer had a giant golden statue of himself built.  Then he ordered that all his subjects bow down and worship it – him – whenever they heard “the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble.” Daniel 3:5,7.  (The giant golden statue can be seen in the distance in the painting above.)

The king further ordered that “whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.” Daniel 3:6.  And so – to make a long story short – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to fall down and worship a foreign “god,” and especially because Nebuchadnezzar was a mere man himself.

As a result they got thrown into the burning fiery furnace, just as the king had threatened.  But the real kicker in the story comes at Daniel 3:16-18.  There the three men – about to be thrown into the burning, fiery furnace – gave their answer to King Nebuchadnezzer:

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defence to you in this matter.  If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us, he will deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king.  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

Note the emphasized “But if not…”  So what the three men were really saying was something like this:  “O Nebuchadnezzar, it’s up to God Himself to decide if He’ll deliver us out of your hands from this dreadful, painful and agonizing death.  God certainly has the power to save us, but even if He decides not to, we will still believe in and follow Him…”

 

 Now that is a true test(ament) of faith

 

 

http://www.canvasreplicas.com/images/Daniel%20in%20the%20Lions%20Den%20Henry%20Ossawa%20Tanner.jpg

Another guy who gave a “true test(ament) of faith…”

 

The upper image is courtesy of ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the Burning Fiery Furnace, and from the Tate Gallery, or more precisely “Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1P 4RG, United Kingdom.”  The Tate Gallery (London) is – by its own admission – the “home of British art from 1500 to the present day.”  The full caption:  “Joseph Mallord William Turner[‘s painting:]   Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the Burning Fiery Furnace exhibited 1832:”

Turner exhibited this picture in 1832, with a passage from the Bible (Daniel iii, 26).  This told how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego emerged unharmed from the fiery furnace they had been thrown into for refusing to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s idol (visible in the distance).

In turn, “J. M. W. Turner” (1775-1851) – who did the painting – was an “English Romanticist landscape painter, water-colourist, and printmaker.”   Some contemporaries thought him too controversial, but he’s come to be regarded as “the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting.”  His oil paintings were good, but “Turner is also one of the greatest masters of British watercolour landscape painting.”  He was known as “the painter of light,” and his paintings – oil and watercolor – are seen as a “Romantic preface to Impressionism.” See Wikipedia.

The lower image is courtesy of Daniel and the Lions Den – Hebrew Bible and ArtThe painting itself is by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), “the first African-American painter to gain international acclaim.  He moved to Paris in 1891 to study, and decided to stay there, being readily accepted in French artistic circles.   His painting entitled Daniel in the Lions’ Den was accepted into the 1896 Salon.”  The painting itself “uses light to symbolize [G]od’s presence.  It is simple and there is not a lot of detail but it gets the point across.”  See also Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Re: “et al.”  The term is “short for et alia, a Latin phrase meaning and the others,” or in the alternative, “and others.”  The term is often used in the title of legal cases, as in: IN THE MATTER OF VITO J. SETTINERI, ET AL., RESPONDENTS, v. ROBERT J. DICARLO, ET AL., APPELLANTS.

Re: Chaldeans.  They were “an intelligent and sometimes aggressive, warlike people,” who generally lived in “southern Babylonia which would be the southern part of Iraq today:”

Sometimes the term Chaldeans is used to refer to Babylonians in general, but normally it refers to a specific semi-nomadic tribe that lived in the southern part of Babylon.  The land of the Chaldeans was the southern portion of Babylon or Mesopotamia.  It was generally thought to be an area about 400 miles long and 100 miles wide alongside of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

It turned out that in the fullness of time, Babylon ended up being ruled by a string of such Chaldeans, while other tribesmen became members of the ruling elite.  As in, those Chaldeans who “influenced Nebuchadnezzar’s decision to throw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:8).”  See Who were the Chaldeans in the Bible? – GotQuestions.org.

Re: the capital city of Babylon.  See Babylon – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:  “The remains of the city are in present-day Hillah … Iraq, about 85 kilometres (53 mi) south of Baghdad, comprising a large tell of broken mud-brick buildings and debris.”

Re: Daniel 3:17.  An alternate translation:   “If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us.”

Re: “that is a true test of faith.”  See also Two Words – ‘If Not’ – Are Key to the Faith of Daniel’s Friends.

 

For more on this subject see:  What should we learn from the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Shadrach, Meshach, And Abednego – Bible Story Summary, and/or The Burning Fiery Furnace – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The first article, What should we learn, had this to say:

God does not always guarantee that we will never suffer or experience death, but He does promise to be with us always.  We should learn that in times of trial and persecution our attitude should reflect that of these three young men:  “But even if he does not…”  (Daniel 3:18).  Without question, these are some of the most courageous words ever spoken.

And incidentally, the fire was so hot that the soldiers assigned to throw the three men into the fire got burnt to a crisp. See Daniel 3:22.    (Which surely presents some kind of object lesson…)

Doubting Thomas’ “passage to India”

Peter Paul Rubens: St Thomas

St. Thomas by Peter Paul Rubens

 

Last week’s post was on Easter Season – AND BEYOND.  This post discusses Doubting Thomases, including the “mother of all” such skeptics.  See Thomas the Apostle – Wikipedia.

The Gospel-reading for Sunday, April 12, discusses the original Doubting Thomas.  See Second Sunday of Easter and/or John 20:19-31.  But first a word about the painting by Rubens, above:

Around 1612 Rubens made a series of portraits of the apostles, in commission of the duke of Lerma.  All paintings show an attribute to identify the apostle.  Thomas holds a spear, the weapon that supposedly killed him and made him a martyr.

(See Peter Paul Rubens: St Thomas – Art and the Bible.  See also Acts of Thomas, written “as late as c. 200.”)  Wikipedia noted the tradition that Thomas sailed to India in the year 52 AD, to spread the Christian faith, and included the “spear” details of his martydom:

According to tradition, St. Thomas was killed in 72 AD[, possibly] at Mylapore near Chennai in India…  This is the earliest known record of his martyrdom..   Some Patristic literature state[s] that St. Thomas died a martyr, in east of Persia or in North India by the wounds of the four spears pierced into his body by the local soldiers.

As also noted last week, even to this day many people still don’t believe in the miraculous healing power of Jesus, let alone His resurrection from the dead.  (Or as Isaac Asimov put it, to such people “the tale of the resurrection must be put down to legend.”)  But Asimov also noted that if the story had ended with the burial of Jesus – without His Resurrection – it’s highly unlikely that the Christian faith would have grown over the centuries as it did:

…even if we take the rationalist view that there was no resurrection in reality, it cannot be denied that there was one in the belief of the disciples and, eventually, of hundreds of millions of men – and that made all the difference. (E.A.)

In other words, if it hadn’t been for the millions upon millions of people who came to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, “the history of the world would be ‘enormously different.'”  See On Easter Season, which included the image at left.  And there are of course some who would say the history of the world would have been better without the spread of the Christian faith.

Before addressing that issue, it can’t be denied that there are many examples – even today – of some ostensible followers of Jesus of whom it could be said, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’”  See Romans 2:24 (referring Isaiah 52:5).

And there’s also the key difference between “skeptical” and “cynical.”  The difference is that being skeptical means “having reservations,” while the “main meaning of cynical is ‘believing the worst of people.”  (Or, being “distrustful of human sincerity or integrity.”)  On the other hand, the Bible itself tells us to approach the Faith with the proper sense of “reservation:”

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

See 1st John 4:1, emphasis added.  All of which adds up to this:  It’s impossible to give a comprehensive answer to such Doubting Thomases in one post.  But the best short answer might be that – taken as a whole – the Faith has led us in the direction of “believing the best of people.”  (Or at least not being cynical so much, which is definitely a drag if not a bummer)

That is, even some atheists admit that – taken as a whole – Christianity has had a positive influence on history.  See Christianity’s Positive Contributions: An Atheist Confession:

Christianity is far more than just pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye.  Wherever Christian missionaries and workers have gone, there has been tremendous work in social reform.  The Christian Gospel is not just about getting souls into heaven, but bettering conditions on planet earth as well.

Or just you could just Google “Christianity positive influence history.”

For other answers to such skeptics, see Mike Mooney’s post, Why I’d Still Believe In God Even if the Bible was a Fairytale.  Or you could check out The True Test of Faith, noted above.

All of which brings us back to “the original Doubting Thomas.”

As Wikipedia noted, he was “informally called doubting Thomas because he doubted Jesus’ resurrection.”  (I.e., when he first heard about it, as told “in the Gospel of John.”)  But see Thomas the Apostle, which said if “Thomas was pessimistic, he was also sturdily loyal.”)

But Thomas’s original doubt was followed – a week later – by a confession of faith, “My Lord and my God,” on seeing Jesus’ wounded body.  As noted in St. Thomas … AmericanCatholic.org:

Poor Thomas!  He made one remark and has been branded as “Doubting Thomas” ever since. But if he doubted, he also believed.  He made what is certainly the most explicit statement of faith in the New Testament: “My Lord and My God!”  [See John 20:28] and, in so expressing his faith, gave Christians a prayer that will be said till the end of time.

The emphasized portion reveals the most important point about Thomas.  He was – it might be said – the original “mother of all skeptics.”  But like the Apostle Paul, his testimony was all the more believable, forceful and compelling precisely because he “started out on the other side.”  See Was the Apostle Paul actually a false prophet:

Paul’s apostolic authority has been well documented in Scripture, beginning with his dramatic Damascus Road experience which changed him from a Christ-hating persecutor of Christians to the foremost spokesman for the faith.  His astonishing change of heart is one of the clearest indications of his anointing by the Lord Jesus Himself.  (E.A.)

(See also Galatians 1:13, where Paul said, “you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.”)

Image of St. ThomasOf course Paul’s Damascus Road Experience is the more widely known of the two, but like St. Thomas, he too went from being at least a skeptic to a firm believer.  And as also noted above, Thomas gave arguably “the most explicit statement of faith in the New Testament.”

Getting back to Thomas’s own Passage to India (alluding to the 1924 “novel by English author E. M. Forster“)…   See for example St. Thomas – Saints & Angels – Catholic Online, which provided the image at right.  It also noted that in his travels, Thomas “ultimately reached India, carrying the Faith to the Malabar coast, which still boasts a large native population calling themselves ‘Christians of St. Thomas.'”

For another view, see About Saint Thomas the Apostle.  The site said after the Ascension of Jesus, the apostles decided who would go where for missionary purposes, and told Thomas to go to India.  He objected, saying he wasn’t healthy enough for such travel, and that “a Hebrew couldn’t possibly teach the Indians.”  But then, like St. Patrick, he became a literal slave:

A merchant eventually sold Thomas into slavery in India.  It was then, when he was freed from bondage that this saint began to form Christian parishes and building churches.  It’s not surprising that to this day, St. Thomas is especially venerated as The Apostle in India.  According to legend, Thomas built a total of seven churches in India, as well as being martyred during a prayer session with a spear around the year 72 C.E [and is]  upheld as an example of both doubter and a staunch and loyal believer in Christ…   After all, each of us has both of these characteristics residing deep within ourselves – both moments of doubt and those of great spiritual strength…

And that – the post concluded – is why “we are so drawn to this historical Christian figure.”

Note also the end of the Gospel reading noted for April 12:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Which is as good a way to end this post as any…

 

The “Martyrdom of St. Thomas by Peter Paul Rubens…”

The upper image is courtesy of Peter Paul Rubens: St Thomas – Art and the Bible

Re: “drag” and “bummer.”  The terms at issue – as popularized in the 1960s – are alternatively defined as “someone or something that is boring, annoying, or disappointing,” “someone or something that makes action or progress slower or more difficult,” or – vis-a-vis bummer – someone who “depresses, frustrates, or disappoints[, as in]: Getting stranded at the airport was a real bummer, or “an unpleasant or disappointing experience.”  And in turn it cannot be denied that there are some among the Christian faith whose methods could be deemed a drag, a bummer, or both. 

Re: John 20:28.  The commentary added, “The disbelief of the apostle is the means of furnishing us with a full and satisfactory demonstration of the resurrection of our Lord.”

Re: Thomas becoming a literal slave “like St. Patrick.”  See On St. Paddy and St. Joe.

The lower image is courtesy of Thomas the Apostle – Wikipedia.

On Easter Season – AND BEYOND

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn: The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen

The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen, by Rembrandt  (1638)…

 

Last week’s post was Holy Week – and hot buns.  This post features Resurrection Sunday, a.k.a.  Easter Sunday.  We’ll look at its implications for humanity “and beyond.” 

But first a word about Rembrandt‘s interpretation of Easter morning, shown above:

Mary Magdalen had just found Jesus’ grave empty, and asks a bystander what has happened. In her confusion she thinks the man is a gardener. Only when he replies with “Mary!” does she realize who she’s talking to.  To illustrate Mary’s confusion, Jesus is often depicted as a gardener in this scene.

And then there’s the matter of Easter Sunday as it’s celebrated today, complete with the “Easter Bunny, colorfully decorated Easter eggs, and Easter egg hunts.”  (See What is Easter Sunday?)

In the meantime:

As noted, last week I covered Holy Week – and hot buns.  This week began with Easter Sunday.  You can see the full set of Bible readings at “Easter Day Principal.”  They include Mark 16:1-8:

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus.  And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb…   As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.  But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.  Look, there is the place they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him…

And that of course is a subject people have been discussing – and arguing about – ever since.

But first a note about Easter as a full season, and not just a single Sunday of the year.

http://www.catholic.org/clife/lent/images/pentecost1.jpgEastertide refers to the 50 days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost.  It’s the “festal season in the liturgical year of Christianity that begins on Easter Sunday.” See Eastertide.  Each Sunday in the season after Easter (the Day) is treated as a Sunday of Easter.  For example:  April 12, 2015 is celebrated as the Second Sunday of Easter.  And as noted, the Easter Season ends on Pentecost Sunday.  (Pentecost – shown at right – means “the 50th day.”)

So how did the “Easter Bunny” get mixed up in all this?

The Easter Bunny (also called the Easter Rabbit or Easter Hare) is a symbol of Easter, depicted as a rabbit bringing Easter eggs.  Originating among German Lutherans, the “Easter Hare” originally played the role of a judge, evaluating whether children were good or disobedient…   In legend, the creature carries colored eggs in his basket, candy, and sometimes also toys to the homes of children, and as such shows similarities to Santa Claus or the Christkind, as they both bring gifts to children on the night before their respective holidays.

That’s from the Easter Bunny link, connected to the “bunny” postcard image below.  The accompanying text said that the Easter Bunny custom was first written about 1682.  (On that note see also social control, not unlike that practiced in the season before Christmas.)

And check out the origins of Easter link.  It’s included in the What is Easter link noted above.

The origins of Easter are rooted in European traditions.  The name Easter comes from a pagan figure called Eastre (or Eostre) who was celebrated as the goddess of spring by the Saxons of Northern Europe.  A festival called Eastre was held during the spring equinox by these people to honor her.  The goddess Eastre’s earthly symbol was the rabbit, which was also known as a symbol of fertility…  Today, Easter is almost a completely commercialized holiday, with all the focus on Easter eggs and the Easter bunny being remnants of the goddess worship.

For another interesting article, see Ēostre – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  It referred to the “Germanic divinity” who was the “namesake of the festival of Easter.”  It noted that the “Ēostre” celebration was mentioned by the Venerable Bede in his “8th-century work The Reckoning of Time.”

Bede (circa 673-735) wrote that in the time before he was born, “pagan Anglo-Saxons held feasts in Eostre’s honor” during the equivalent of today’s month of April.  But – he added – the tradition “had died out by his time, replaced by the Christian Paschal month, a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.”

So it was apparently some time before the 8th century that “Christianity adapted itself to pagan customs” like these, as long as they didn’t “compromise the essential doctrines of the Church.  (See Asimov, 932-33.)

And speaking of The Resurrection by El Greco

El Greco‘s interpretation of Easter morning – shown above left – was viewed as “odd at the time,” by his contemporaries.  But these days El Greco’s version “stands out as a work ahead of its time.”  The painting itself shows Jesus – the Risen Messiah – “in a blaze of glory … holding the white banner of victory over death.”

Which is – after all – what Easter Sunday is really all about.

Isaac Asimov went on to note that many people – even to this day – still don’t believe in all this.  That is, they believe that “the tale of the resurrection must be put down to legend.”  But Asimov also noted that if the story had ended with the burial of Jesus – standing alone – it was highly likely “that Jesus’ disciples would gradually have forgotten their old teacher.”  In turn, few new disciples would have been recruited to gather in His memory, as they did in the years following His death.  (As described at length in the Acts of the Apostles – Wikipedia.)

In sum (Asimov noted), the history of the world would be “enormously different:”

However, even if we take the rationalist view that there was no resurrection in reality, it cannot be denied that there was one in the belief of the disciples and, eventually, of hundreds of millions of men – and that made all the difference. (E.A.)

(896-97)  The foregoing was from Asimov’s summary of Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 27:61-28:3).  (See also Resurrection of Jesus – Wikipedia.)

So Asimov’s point seems to be that even though the “rationalists” among us can’t be persuaded by and through any direct evidence of the Resurrection, they can’t deny the circumstantial evidence(That is, the evidence provided by the millions of lives transformed by their own belief.)

And speaking of such Doubting Thomases:  The original, the prototype of such sceptics – as shown in the painting at left (by Schongauer) – is the subject of the Gospel reading for this upcoming Sunday, April 12.  See Second Sunday of Easter and/or John 20:19-31, and also Thomas the Apostle – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Then too there’s the fact that this otherwise-obscure former carpenter from Nazareth literally “split time in half.”  (A feat that hasn’t been done before or since.)

In the days before Jesus, people told time by whatever king held power in their particular time and place.  See Matthew 2:1, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod.”  See too Jeremiah 1:2, on the Old Testament prophet “to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.” 

So if it hadn’t been for Jesus, this post would have been published on April 8, but not 2015.  The date would have been “in the days of Barack Obama, president of the United States, in the sixth year of his reign.”  The year I was born would be “in the days of Harry Truman, president of the United States, in the sixth year of his reign.”  And I would have graduated from high school “in the days of Richard Nixon, president of the United States, in the first year of his reign.” (All of which would have been extremely confusing.)

So that simplicity-of-numbering alone may have been worth the price of admission

 

“An Easter postcard depicting the Easter Bunny...”

 

The upper image is courtesy of The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen – Art and the Bible.

The small Pentecost image is courtesy of www.catholic.org/clife/lent/pentecost.php.

The larger middle image is courtesy of The Resurrection by GRECO, El – Web Gallery of Art:

Christ is shown in a blaze of glory, striding through the air and holding the white banner of victory over death.  The soldiers who had been placed at the tomb to guard it scatter convulsively.  Two of them cover their eyes, shielding themselves from the radiance, and two others raise one hand in a gesture of acknowledgement of the supernatural importance of the event…   By excluding any visual reference to the tomb or to landscape, El Greco … articulated its universal significance through the dynamism of nine figures that make up the composition [in] one of the greatest interpretations of the subject in art.

See also Resurrection, 1584-94 by El Greco, and El Greco’s Resurrection: Ahead of its Time:  “El Greco considered spiritual expression to be more important than public opinion and it was in this way that he developed a unique style … as one of the great geniuses of Western art.”

The lower image is courtesy of Easter – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Re: Isaac Asimov.  The quotes – including the summary of the Gospel of Matthew – are from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at pages 896-97 and 932-33. 

Asimov (1920-1992) was “an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.  Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.”  His list of books included those on “astronomy, mathematics, the Bible, William Shakespeare’s writing, and chemistry.”  He was a long-time member of Mensa, “albeit reluctantly;  he described some members of that organization as ‘brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs.’”  See Isaac Asimov – Wikipedia.

On Holy Week – and hot buns

Jesus riding on a donkey in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem …”

 

Holy Week is upon us.  It’s the last week of Lent and the week just before Easter Sunday.  (This year, April 4.)  It begins with Palm Sunday and includes “Holy Wednesday (Spy Wednesday), Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday), Good Friday (Holy Friday), and Holy Saturday.”

Notice that Holy Week doesn’t “end” with Easter Sunday.  By definition, Easter Sunday “is the beginning of another liturgical week.”  (Wikipedia, emphasis added.)  That in turn could be a metaphor or object lesson for a whole new beginning, as in a “whole new way of life.”

Which is another way of saying Easter Sunday is the defining moment of the liturgical year…

So Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, which commemorates “Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in each of the four canonical Gospels.”  The symbolism of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey comes from Zechariah 9:9.  In turn, the welcoming crowds chanted from Psalm 118:26, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.”  Further:

The symbolism of the donkey may refer to the Eastern tradition that it is an animal of peace, versus the horse, which is the animal of war.   A king would have come riding upon a horse when he was bent on war and riding upon a donkey when he wanted to point out he was coming in peace.  Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem would have thus symbolized his entry as the Prince of Peace, not as a war-waging king.  (E.A.)

By the 16th and 17th centuries A.D., Palm Sunday got celebrated by burning a Jack-‘o’-Lent figure.  “This was a straw effigy which would be stoned and abused,” designed to be a “kind of revenge on Judas Iscariot,” who had betrayed Jesus.  “It could also have represented the hated figure of Winter whose destruction prepares the way for Spring.”

Holy Wednesday is also called Crooked Wednesday, Black Wednesday, or “Spy Wednesday:”

The name comes from the Bible passage read in church on that day, which explains the role that Judas Iscariot played in bringing about Jesus’ death…  Although Judas was not a spy in the sense in which we use the word today, spies do perform the same kinds of treacherous acts that Judas did.  In exchange for a sum of money Judas betrayed Jesus’ whereabouts to the religious authorities who sought his death.

See Spy Wednesday – Encyclopedia – The Free Dictionary.

That’s followed by Maundy Thursday, which commemorates the “Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles.”  The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin mandatum or mendicare, and refers to the washing of feet that Jesus did for His disciples.   (An action consistent with the “hospitality customs of ancient civilizations, especially where sandals were the chief footwear.   A host would provide water for guests to wash their feet, provide a servant to wash the feet of the guests or even serve the guests by washing their feet.”)

In John 13 (verses 1-17), the Last Supper (seen at left) was preceded by Jesus washing “His Followers’ Feet.”  That act by Jesus “served the dual purpose of venerating Passover, the escape of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, and the establishment of a new tradition, Christianity.” 

Another note:  In John’s Gospel, the Last Supper and Crucifixion were not on “Nisan 15 (the first night of Passover),” as in the other Gospels.  John had the events happening on “Nisan 14, when the Passover lambs were slaughtered.  Presumably the author [John] preferred this date because it associated Jesus as the Lamb of God with the sacrificial lambs of Passover.”  (Asimov)

Good Friday commemorates the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate, and also His conviction, Crucifixion and death at Calvary.  And just as another aside, Good Friday (in a sense) marks the technical end of Lent.  That is, “Hot cross buns are traditionally toasted and eaten on Good Friday,” in the Anglican countries of the British Commonwealth.

hot cross bun is a “spiced sweet bun made with currants or raisins and marked with a cross on the top.”  The eating of this hot cross bun was designed to mark the end of Lent, with all its disciplines and “giving ups.”  I.e., during Lent, only “plain buns made without dairy products” could be eaten.  That prohibition ended at noon on Good Friday.  Also:

English folklore includes many superstitions surrounding hot cross buns.  One of them says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or grow moldy during the subsequent year…   Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year…  If taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwreck.  If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly.

Homemade Hot Cross Buns.jpgSee Hot cross bun – Wikipedia, which includes the image at right.  And as yet another aside, “On Good Friday April 14, 1865, American President Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot by actor John Wilkes Booth.”

Turning to the Crucifixion itself, Asimov said John’s Gospel made a key theological point, that the Crucifixion of Jesus “on the eve of Passover is a new and greater sacrifice.”  (He noted especially John 19:33 and John 19:34.)

That in turn led to the fulfilling of several prophecies about the Messiah in the Old Testament.  For one thing, since Jesus was crucified on Passover, the powers that be didn’t want His body hanging on the cross into and over the Sabbath Day.  That would have been ritually impure:

The next day was a special Sabbath day.  The Jewish leaders did not want the bodies to stay on the cross on the Sabbath day.  So they asked Pilate to order that the legs of the men be broken.  And they asked that the bodies be taken down from the crosses.  So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men on the crosses beside Jesus.   But when the soldiers came close to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead. So they did not break his legs.  But one of the soldiers stuck his spear into Jesus’ side.  Immediately blood and water came out.

See John 19:31-34.  Asimov continued that in accordance with Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, “Not a bone of Jesus was broken but the blood of Jesus had to be seen in accordance with Exodus 12:13 and Exodus 12:46, respectively.  Hence the soldiers did not break Jesus’ legs and did draw blood with the spear.”  (Asimov,992-93)

To explain further, John 19:36 said, “These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.'”  The scripture being fulfilled was Psalm 34:20 (with a “lead-in” from verse 19), “Many are the afflictions of the righteous,  But the LORD delivers him out of them all.   He keeps all his bones, Not one of them is broken.” (E.A.)

John 19:37 said (in the ISV),  “In addition, another passage of Scripture says, ‘They will look on the one whom they pierced.'”  The scripture being fulfilled there was Zechariah 12:10:

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication.  They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. (E.A.)

All of which referred back to the First Passover, as told in Exodus, Chapter 12, and especially in Exodus 12:3.   That was when Moses – with considerable help from God – was about to deliver the original Children of Israel from their literal bondage as slaves, in the service of the Egyptian Pharoah.  (As illustrated at left.)  All of which could in turn serve as a possible metaphor for our being freed from  spiritual bondage today:

This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.  Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household…  This is a day to remember.  Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord.

See Exodus 12: 1-3, and 14.  Thus the Son of God – Jesus – was offering Himself as a “new and greater sacrifice,” as Isaac Asimov noted.  In this He was doing much the same thing that Moses did when he offered up the Bronze Serpent in Numbers 21 (verses 4-9).  See also Nehushtan – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

I’ll be writing more next week about the Nehushtan and it’s metaphorical implications.  (The key point is that “those who look to Christ are healed,” much as the ancient Hebrews – suffering from a plague of snakes – were also healed when they looked at the bronze serpent that Moses held up.  See also Caduceus as a symbol of medicine – Wikipedia.)

And finally, there comes Holy Saturday, “the day before Easter and the last day of Holy Week…  It commemorates the day that Jesus Christ‘s body lay in the tomb.”   ‘Nuff said.

So as noted above, Holy Week ends with Saturday, and Easter Sunday “is the beginning of another liturgical week.”  I’ll take up the subject of Easter next week.

 

And by the way, Easter is a Season, not just one day…

 

http://uploads8.wikiart.org/images/augustus-john/moses-and-the-brazen-serpent-1898.jpg

Moses foreshadowing the sacrifice of Jesus with his “bronze serpent…”

 

The upper image is courtesy of with Palm Sunday (Wikipedia).  The full caption:  “Jesus riding on a donkey in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem depicted by James Tissot.”

The middle image is courtesy of Last Supper – Wikipedia.  The full caption:  “Last Supper, Carl Bloch. In some depictions John the Apostle is placed on the right side of Jesus, some to the left.”  (Judas Iscariot is seen sneaking off at the lower right.)

The “First Passover” image is courtesy of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption reads:  “Illustration of The Exodus from Egypt, 1907.”

Time-magazine-cover-augustus-john.jpgThe lower image is courtesy of www.wikiart.org/en/augustus-john/moses-and-the-brazen-[or bronze]-serpentAugustus John (1878-1961) was a Welsh painter, draughtsman, and etcher…   His work was favourably compared in London with that of Gauguin and Matisse.  He then developed a style of portraiture that was imaginative and often extravagant, catching an instantaneous attitude in his subjects.”  He is shown at left on the cover of Time magazine:  “‘Artist John,’ on a 1928 Time magazine cover.”

See also Old Testament – How does the Snake in the Desert foreshadow the coming of Jesus, Caduceus – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and/or Nehushtan – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Re:  Foot washing in the Old Testament.  See Genesis 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; and Ist Samuel 25:41

Re: the length of time it took to die from crucifixion.  See Crucifixion – WikipediaOn that note, Crucifixion was intended to provide an especially slow, painful death, and gave rise to the term excruciating, literally “out of crucifying.”  Frequently, “the legs of the person executed were broken or shattered with an iron club,” which act “hastened the death of the person but was also meant to deter those who observed the crucifixion from committing offenses.” 

Death from crucifixion could be caused by: “cardiac rupture, heart failure, hypovolemic shock, acidosis, asphyxia, arrhythmia, and pulmonary embolism,” or a combination thereof.  It could also result from other causes, “including sepsis following infection due to the wounds caused by the nails or by the scourging that often preceded crucifixion, eventual dehydration, or animal predation.”

A theory attributed to Pierre Barbet holds that, when the whole body weight was supported by the stretched arms, the typical cause of death was asphyxiation.  He wrote that the condemned would have severe difficulty inhaling, due to hyper-expansion of the chest muscles and lungs.  The condemned would therefore have to draw himself up by his arms, leading to exhaustion, or have his feet supported by tying or by a wood block.  When no longer able to lift himself, the condemned would die within a few minutes.

Needless to say, if the condemned person’s legs were broken – as detailed in John 19:31-34 above – he or she would be unable to use them to raise himself up to inhale…  (It appears that there were rare instances of women being crucified.  See Were women ever crucified – Answers.com.