Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What's in a Name? (Exodus 3:13-15)

13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I AM has sent me to you.’” 15 “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘[Yahweh], the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this is my title for all generations” (Exodus 3:13-15, New Revised Standard Version [NRSV]).

Early in the book of Exodus, Yahweh calls Moses to go to Egypt with a special message for Pharaoh (the ruler of Egypt). The quote above is part of that conversation.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

False Saviors and Final Rebellions (2 Thessalonians 2:1-10)

We are reaching the end of the Church year. The new one begins on the First Sunday of Advent which, this year on our Olympian calendar, is December 1.

Every year at this time, the lectionary readings include biblical texts about the end of history. Today we will focus on one of Paul’s reflections on our final days.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Eller on Romans 13 (Part 2)

Separately as Christians and together as Church, we may expect Jesus to invite us to witness to people in government (the state): rulers, bureaucrats, tax collectors, police officers, and soldiers. What concrete words and actions might Jesus invite us to say and do?

Let us look at the range of logical possibilities: attack always > resist mostly > tolerate > support mostly > obey always.

What Do We Owe the State? Eller on Romans 13

Personally as Christians and together as Church, we may expect Jesus to invite us to witness to people in government (the state): rulers, bureaucrats, tax collectors, police officers, and soldiers. What concrete words and actions might Jesus invite us to say and do?

Let us look at the range of logical possibilities: attack always > resist mostly > tolerate > support mostly > obey always.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Taking Responsibility (Jonah 1:7-17)

In Jonah 1:1-6, we read that Yahweh calls Jonah to go to Nineveh and speak against its evil. Instead, Jonah boards a ship sailing in the opposite direction. Yahweh, however, doesn’t end the conversation just because Jonah wants to. He remains a very real presence in Jonah’s life by pursuing him with an increasingly bad storm.

Biblical passage

Each man said to his mate, “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.”

10 Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, “How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. 11 So they said to him, “What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?”—for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.” 13 However, the men rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them. 14 Then they called on the Lord and said, “We earnestly pray, O Lord, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O Lord, have done as You have pleased.”

15 So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

17 And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights (New American Standard Version).

7 The sailors have already tried to save their lives by praying to Jupiter and tossing the cargo. Nothing has worked. In desperation, they draw lots to discover who’s at fault.

They don’t know that Yahweh doesn’t use lots as some magical way of determining his will. But Yahweh can use them if he freely decides he wants to. This time he does.

8 The sailors rapidly ask Jonah several questions to discover some way to save the ship.

9-10 This time Jonah, finally, decides to speak the unpleasant truth. He decides to start caring for this miserable crew. He decides to affirm his relationship to Yahweh and to Yahweh’s people that he had wanted so desperately to deny.

11-13 Now an empowered Jonah decides to take responsibility for his own evil actions, and their destructive consequences, by speaking the unpleasant truth: the storm is his fault. He chooses to accept his own death so that the sailors might live. He tells the sailors to toss him overboard to stop the storm.

Earlier, Jonah didn’t care if his indifference caused the sailors to suffer. In contrast, the sailors do care about Jonah. One more time they try to save themselves and Jonah from the storm. Once again they fail.

14-16 The sailors pick up Jonah and throw him into the waiting hands of Yahweh. When the storm immediately stops, they know that Yahweh, not Jupiter, is the one true god. Their Olympian days are over and their challenging days of devotion to the one odd true begin. By speaking the unpleasant truth to them, Jonah saved these sailors both physically and spiritually.

17 What kind of fish swallowed Jonah? An Olympian question. It doesn’t matter.

Yahweh works with what he’s got. Lots are almost always meaningless. This time, however, Yahweh freely chooses to reveal his will to sailors using them because that’s what they give him. The alignment of stars and planets means nothing, but Yahweh once freely used the astrological knowledge of three “wise” men to get them to the birth of Jesus. Shepherds don’t understand astrology but they do like angels, so Yahweh sent them angels to get them to that same birth.

Jesus speaks words of truth to us but is also present in our lives today through signs and wonders. Just what these words and signs will be is always unpredictable. Nothing serves as a word or sign automatically. The presence of Jesus, the words and signs he chooses to communicate with us, and even our ability to discern his presence through them: all of this is miraculous. Our most helpful response is gratitude.

9 Sometimes Jesus uses suffering to get our attention. Not always. We would be wrong to think that every time someone suffers they deserve it. But if we ourselves have long been comfortable and suddenly things start going very wrong around us, we rightly pause to ask ourselves whether we’ve been deaf and blind to words and signs of Christ’s will. We live not for ourselves but to serve as witnesses to him.

12-15 Jonah says, “Throw me into the sea, and it will calm down. I know it is my fault that you are caught in this violent storm” (v. 12). That’s quite a confession. Jonah admits that he has not been the faithful witness to Yahweh that Yahweh had called him to be. As a result, a bad storm has caused much damage and promised even to cause death if not stopped.

Jesus calls us to live as radiant witnesses to him by sharing his light, love, and life with all the other people in our lives. When we do this, Jesus is able to keep darkness, indifference, and death at bay. When we don’t do this, our little world becomes a darker, colder, deadlier place. When the Church doesn’t do this, the whole world grows more threatened and threatening.

Let us, with Jonah, confess that we too have allowed ourselves to be complacently Olympian instead of rigorously Christian. Maybe Jesus will again use such a confession to—miraculously—strengthen our witness to him and weaken the many, varied, and increasingly powerful forms of nothingness we face.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Running away from Yahweh (Jonah 1:3-6)

Yahweh is the one odd god of truth, freedom, love, and vitality. He calls Jonah to share an important word of truth with the people of Nineveh (Jonah 1:1-2).

The people of Nineveh are Olympians. From an Olympian point of view, they are very good. At the time of Jonah’s call, they are the most intensely Olympian people on earth.

It is only from Yahweh’s point of view that their way of living is wicked. Yahweh chooses Jonah to speak that liberating truth to them.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Yahweh's Call (Jonah 1:1-2)

The word of  [Yahweh] came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying,2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me” (New American Standard Version).

Yahweh is the one odd god of freedom, truth, love, and vitality. He calls Jonah to share an important word of truth with the people of Nineveh.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Catholic-Orthodox Schism (330-1453)

330 Constantine moves the capital of a united Roman state from Rome to Constantinople. This marks a permanent loss of Olympian status and privilege for the inhabitants of the city of Rome. This loss affects even the authority of the bishop of Rome in the eyes of Christians throughout Olympia.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Orthodox Expansion (863-988)

In 863 the Slavic ruler of Moravia (part of today's Czech Republic) wanted greater political freedom from Catholic Christians to his west. He asked the Roman emperor in Constantinople to send him some Orthodox Christian leaders willing to teach Christianity to his subjects in their own language. Happy to extend his own influence, the emperor sent him two brothers, Cyril (b. 827) and Methodius (b. 825), who were native Slavic speakers. They created a Slavic alphabet and translated the Bible and Church liturgy into what came to be called Old Church Slavonic (or Old Bulgarian). Thousands of Moravians came to appreciate hearing the Good News and worshiping in their own language.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Orthodox Iconoclasm (730-787, 815-843)

Growth in Christian imagery
By the year 400 churches and their leaders were receiving financial support from the Roman state. Church buildings were becoming more numerous, larger, and decorated with religious art. Artists modeled their images of Jesus after traditional ones of Jupiter and of Mary after ones of Olympian goddesses.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Early History of Eastern Olympian Churches (70-451)

1. The Illegal Period (70-313)
Jerusalem and its loss of significance
From AD 30, Christian Jews competed with Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes to have the normative understanding of Judaism. Then, in AD 66, Jewish leaders of Judea chose to rebel against Roman control.

Tradition tells us that Christian Jews in Jerusalem chose to avoid the rebellion by leaving not only Jerusalem but the province of Judea altogether. They moved north to the city of Pella (in today's Jordan).

Friday, September 20, 2013

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Søren Kierkegaard was born on May 5, 1813, in Copenhagen, into a middle-class family. His father prospered as a wool merchant and retired at 40 to devote himself to understanding the truth. He regularly invited professors, pastors, and writers to his house for lively intellectual discussions. Søren's brother Peter, older by seven years, later became a Lutheran bishop.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Frankfurt (1749-1765)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born on August 28, 1749, in Frankfurt, Germania, into an upper-middle-class family.

His father, and tutors hired by him, taught young Johann everything they thought he needed to know to lead a successful life. He studied languages: Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, French, and English. He learned how to dance, ride a horse, and fence. He loved drawing, watching plays, and reading the books of Moses, Homer, Virgil, and Ovid.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)

Salvador Dalí was born on May 11, 1904, into a middle-class family in Figueres, Iberia, a town about 90 miles (140 km) northeast of Barcelona but only about 17 miles (27 km) south of the border with Gallia. According to his autobiography, even as a child he responded to disappointment with fits of anger to which others responded with acts of cruelty.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926)

Antoni Gaudi was born June 25, 1852, into a working-class family in the city of Reus, Iberia, about 60 miles (100 km) west of Barcelona. As a child, he attended the local Piarist Roman Catholic school for poor children. He also suffered from illnesses including rheumatism. These illnesses, and some intentional reflection on his diet, led him to become a vegetarian. Vegetarianism and his Catholic piety led him to practice fasting.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)

François-Auguste-René Rodin was born on November 12, 1840, in Paris into a working-class family. As a child he largely taught himself and chose to start drawing at age 10. He attended an art school as a teenager for three years.

In 1857 he wanted to start studying at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts) in Paris and submitted a clay sculpture with his application. He was turned down. He later applied twice more and still failed to gain entrance. He found work sculpting decorative objects and architectural details. In 1860 he created a bust of his father, his first.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Jan Vermeer (1632-1675)

His life
Jan Vermeer was baptized in a Reformed Church as an infant on October 31, 1632, in Delft. His father was an innkeeper and art dealer and, when he died in 1652, Jan inherited the business.

Jan married a young Roman Catholic woman in 1653. They moved in with her prosperous mother, shared her spacious house in Delft, and he lived there for the rest of his life. That same year Jan joined the local guild for painters. Its members elected him as their president in 1662 and re-elected him thrice thereafter.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rembrandt (1606-1669)

His life
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born in Leiden on July 15, 1606 into a prosperous middle-class family. Because they lived in an unusually tolerant Holland, his Dutch Reformed father had been able to marry his Roman Catholic mother. While Christian, Rembrandt never participated in either tradition.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

John Milton (1608-1674)

Childhood (1608-c. 1620)
John Milton was born in London near St. Paul's Cathedral on December 9, 1608, into a middle-class Protestant family. His father was prosperous enough to pay tutors to teach his son.

Education (c. 1620-1639)
John's private lessons prepared him to attend St. Paul's School where he deepened his knowledge of Greek, Latin, and theology. He began to write poetry at this time. John Donne was the leading priest at St. Paul's Cathedral from 1621 until his death in 1631.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Daniel Defoe (ca 1660-1731)

Childhood (1660-1676)
Daniel Foe was born in London around 1660. His father was a successful seller of candles and soap. In 1665 he managed to survive the Great Plague of London which killed 70,000 others. In 1666 his family's house was one of only three in his neighborhood to survive the Great Fire of London. After all that excitement, he was sent to boarding school and, as a teenager, attended a progressive Nonconformist (non-Anglican) academy.

Hustler (ca 1678-1685)
As an adult, he first worked as a merchant hustling (selling energetically yet deceitfully) a variety of products. In 1684 he married and received a small fortune as dowry.

Friday, September 6, 2013

John Bunyan (1628-1688)

John Bunyan was born on November 28, 1628, into a working-class family in a small village about 56 miles (90 km) north of London. As a child, he attended school in a nearby village. As a teenager, he wandered between villages repairing pots. At 16 he joined Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army for three years but saw no combat.

Back in his home village in 1648, John heard the voice of God. God wanted to know if John was going to become a Christian and go to Heaven or remain an Olympian and go to Hell. John decided to become more intentional about being a Christian. In 1650 he came across two books, Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven by Arthur Dent and Practice of Piety by Lewis Bayly, which, in addition to the Bible, helped him a lot.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin in 1667. His father died before he was born and his mother returned to England when he was three. She left him in Dublin to be raised by her deceased husband's brother. Jonathan received an excellent education and graduated from Trinity College, after several years as a mediocre student, in 1686.

Political turmoil in Dublin encouraged Jonathan to move to England in 1688. His mother helped him get a job as secretary and personal assistant to a distant relative, retired diplomat, and oligarch named William Temple. Jonathan would remain in his employment, except for two brief periods, until William's death in January 1699.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Knights Hospitaler and Templar

Following the conquest of Jerusalem by Catholic Christians in 1099, a man named Geraudo started a hospice to offer hospitality to Christian pilgrims visiting the city. Thankful pilgrims rewarded his excellent hospitality with generous donations of money and land. He used these to establish other hospices for pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem. In 1113, the ruler of the Catholic Church issued a letter officially approving Geraudo's organization. For the patron saint of his organization, Geraudo chose St. John the Baptist. His organization, then, came to be known as the Order of the Hospitalers (providers of hospitality) of St. John of Jerusalem.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Crusades

The Seventh Crusade (1248-1250)
In 1244 Turkish Muslims, temporary allies of the Muslim ruler in Cairo, destroyed Jerusalem and put the depopulated rubble once again under Muslim control. This troubled the ruler of the Roman Catholic Church but no one else.

In December 1244, for personal reasons, Louis 9th of France committed himself to crusading. In 1248, after three years of careful preparations, Louis traveled with his army to Cyprus where they wintered. They sailed to Damietta and in June 1249 took control of the city with some pluck and little trouble. The Nile then began its annual flooding so Louis organized municipal affairs, the Crusaders ate an alarming amount of food, and an Egyptian offer to exchange Jerusalem for Damietta was again foolishly refused.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Fifth and Sixth Crusades

The Fourth Crusade (summary)
Shortly after becoming ruler of the Roman Catholic Church in 1198, Innocent 3rd called for a fourth crusade against Muslims to recapture Jerusalem. That had led, strangely enough, to the brutal sacking of Constantinople (1204) and the establishment of Catholic Christian states in formerly Orthodox Christian lands (1204-1261).

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204)

This is a particularly sad tale to tell.

When Lothar of Segni took the name Innocent 3rd, on becoming ruler of the Roman Catholic Church, he almost immediately called for another crusade against Muslims in eastern Olympia. Rather than directly attacking Jerusalem, the Crusaders planned to attack the capital of the Muslim state in Egypt and, by destroying it, fatally weaken Muslim control of Jerusalem.

The Second and Third Crusades

First Crusade (1095-1099)
Urban 2nd, ruler of the Roman Catholic Church, launched the First Crusade in 1095. That crusade accomplished its objective of retaking Jerusalem in 1099. Crusaders consolidated their control of coastal Levantia by 1124. All remaining crusades were simply efforts by Catholic (vs. Orthodox) Christians to maintain the existence of four small and vulnerable Catholic (vs. Orthodox) Christian states in Levantia against the determined efforts of Muslim rulers to make them disappear.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The First Crusade (1095-1099)

In 1054, Christendom broke into two large sections, Greek and Latin, in eastern and western Olympia respectively.

In 1071, the Roman emperor Romanus Diogenes lost a decisive battle against Turkish Muslims at Manzikert in the land of Incognita  just east of Anatolia. This decisive defeat marked the beginning of a decline from which the Roman Empire never recovered. After that, Turkish Muslims quickly and completely settled central Anatolia. They also soon took control of central Levantia, including the city of Jerusalem, from its Arab Muslim rulers in Cairo in 1073.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Decline of Islamic Iberia (1031-1492)

By 1000 Córdoba, with a population of 500,000 people, had surpassed even Constantinople to become the largest and richest city in Olympia.

Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Amir, better known as Almanzor (b. 938, r. 976-1002), initially exercised the power of the caliphate as guardian of al-Hakam's 10-year-old son. He began the end of Islamic Iberia's golden age when he ordered the burning of all the scientific books that al-Hakam had collected. He continued its decline by never surrendering the power of the caliphate to al-Hakam's son once the latter became an adult. The result, following the death of Almanzor's son in 1008, was civil war.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Islamic Iberia: The Golden Age (921-1031)

Muslim ruler Abd ar-Rahman 3rd (890-961) began his reign of almost half a century in 912. Because of his tolerance of Jews and Christians and generous patronage of the arts and humanities, Andalusia (Islamic Iberia), and especially his capital city of Córdoba, enjoyed a golden age of economic prosperity, cultural creativity, and harmonious relations between Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Stories from Early Islamic Iberia (711-911)

By 475, a Germanic (Visigothic) Christian state had taken control of almost all of Roman Christian Iberia. By 589, its rulers had become Roman Catholics.

In 711 a Muslim army invaded Iberia from Carthaginia. Later reinforced, it took control of almost all of Iberia by 718. The area of Iberia controlled by a Muslim state came to be known as al-Andalus, or Andalusia, with its capital, beginning in 717, in Córdoba.

Freedom vs. Moralism (Galations 5:1)

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1, New Revised Standard Version).

Paul's whole letter to the Galatians is an argument against moralism or conformity to a moral code, any moral code. Moral codes come from the six Olympian gods. Their whole unspoken purpose is to justify power, falsehood, indifference, and death. In pleasant contrast, Jesus frees us from such foolishness.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Importance of Daily Bible Reading (Psalm 1)

1 [Blessed] are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of [Yahweh],
and on his law they meditate day and night
(Psalm 1:1-2, New Revised Standard Version).

Olympianity is the religion devoted to the six gods of Olympus: (1) Jupiter, god of politics; (2) Mars, god of war: (3) Vulcan, god of technology; (4) Venus, goddess of sex; (5) Pluto, god of money; and (6) Bacchus, god of consumption.

El Cid (1043-1099)

Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (1043-1099) was born in 1043 into a minor oligarchic family in the small town of Vivar just outside of Burgos in northern Iberia. At 14 he fought in a battle between the Christian state of Castile and the Islamic capital of Zaragoza. At 20 he joined the Christians of Castile and the Muslims of Zaragoza attacking the Christians of Aragon. During that battle, Rodrigo met a fearsome hero of the Aragonese army in single combat, killed him, and was hailed El Compeador (The Champion) ever after.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

Florence Nightingale was named after the city she was born in on May 12, 1820. Her upper-class family returned to England the next year. In 1825 they moved into Embley Park: a rural mansion near the Channel city of Southampton and about 80 miles (140 km) southeast of London. Embley Park remained Florence's home for the rest of her long life. She was educated at home by her father who taught her several languages as well as philosophy, history, and mathematics.

Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845)

Elizabeth Gurney was born on May 21, 1780, into a Quaker family in Norwich, England (about 116 miles northeast of London). Her father was a bank and factory executive, her mother a member of a major banking family, and her childhood home a large mansion.

As a teenager, she disliked attending Sunday Quaker meetings. One Sunday when she was 18, however, she heard an American Quaker named William Savery speak. William encouraged everyone at meeting to care more for marginal people. Elizabeth took these words to heart. She started ministering with people who were poor, sick, or illiterate.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

According to Christian tradition, Jesus was executed in AD 33 just outside the walls of Jerusalem on a hill called Golgotha (Greek) or Calvary (Latin).

In 135 Hadrian, Roman ruler and devout Olympian that he was, had a temple dedicated to Jupiter built on the site of the old Jewish temple and a temple dedicated to Venus built on Golgotha. To provide an adequately strong and flat foundation for the temple on hilly Golgotha, and to thoroughly cover any visual reminders of Christian significance, Hadrian had tons of rock and dirt brought to the site.

Temple Mount

In 1921 BC Yahweh called Abraham to move from Mesopotamia to the land of Canaan. In 1896 Abraham's wife Sarah gave birth to their only child Isaac. In 1871 Yahweh tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac on a mountain in the land of Moriah (Genesis 22:2). Tradition identifies the site of this testing as Mount Moriah in what is now Jerusalem.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Expansion of the Caliphate (634-732)

The advance of Muslim armies from the southern Levantian city of Medina completely surprised the two Olympian superpowers of the time: the Roman and Persian empires. In December 634 Muslim armies captured the Roman city of Damascus, in 636 they defeated the Persians and took control of Mesopotamia, and by 637 they had taken control of the eastern Mediterranean coast from the Romans and so controlled all of the geocultural province of Levantia.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Jerome (ca 345-420)

Olympian childhood and youth (345-365)
Jerome (Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus) was born around 345 in the town of Stridon about 150 miles (94 km) northeast of the coastal city of Trieste in Alpinia (see Glossary). He went to Rome around 360 to study philosophy and rhetoric. Only then did he learn Latin and some Greek.

As a student, he would joined his colleagues in drinking and having casual sexual intercourse. Then, tormented by guilt, on Sundays he would enter the dark catacombs filled with the bones of early Christians and feel terrified by the sense of Hell he experienced.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

Augustine was born in 354 in the town of Tagaste about 155 miles (250 km) west of Carthage. His parents were Latin-speaking Berbers but his father was an Olympian while Monica, his mother, was a Christian. They sent him to a nearby boarding school in 365 where he studied Latin literature. As a teenager he developed an interest in philosophy after reading Cicero.

James Joyce (1882-1941)

James Joyce was born on February 2, 1882, into a middle-class family living in Dublin, Ireland. He was the oldest of ten surviving children. When he was five years old he was bitten by a dog and had an intense if understandable fear of them after that. At this time his aunt also vividly described how God used bolts of lightning to punish wicked boys and he developed an intense if understandable fear of them too.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Roman Empire Faces Unprecedented Vicissitudes (AD 400-700)

The Roman Empire: Hellenia, Anatolia, Levantia, Egypt (395)
Theodosius was the last person to rule both western and eastern halves of the Roman state. He also established Trinitarian Christianity as its sole official religion. Following his death in 395, various Germanian groups took control of the geocultural provinces of what had been the western half of the Roman Empire by 476. The eastern half, however, ruled from Constantinople, remained intact.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rome: Latin Olympian to Greek Christian (330-620)

In 285 Diocletian, the Roman ruler from 284 to 305, divided the Roman state into two administrative regions to improve its response to multiple external threats. The western region included our geocultural provinces of Britannia, Gallia, Iberia, Carthaginia, Alpinia, and Latinia. The eastern region included Hellenia, Anatolia, central Levantia, and Egypt.

This division of the Roman state into western and eastern halves acknowledged important differences in language, culture, history, and geography that existed between the two. Perhaps unintentionally, it also organized and strengthened these differences.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Contraction of the Roman State (AD 117-486)

Loss of Mesopotamia (117)
The Roman ruler Trajan personally led an army in the conquest of Mesopotamia (114-117). Following his death, Hadrian, the new Roman ruler, immediately abandoned Mesopotomia as too difficult to control because of the resistance of the adjoining state of Parthia. The Parthians intensely challenged Roman control in their area and Hadrian rightly concluded that the cost of meeting their challenge exceeded any likely benefits. So the first contraction of the Roman state, which was abandonment of the last Roman expansion, occurred in 117.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Expansion of the Roman State (753 BC-AD 117)

Taking Control of the Palatine Hill (753-509)
Tradition tell us that the early history of Rome begins with the founding of the city by Romulus on the Palatine Hill near the Tiber River in 753 BC. At that time, and for more than a century, the Etruscans controlled Rome and other cities in northern Latinia. Etruscan control gradually weakened. The small unimportant city of Rome was able to break free of it in 509.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hellenic Culture in the Eastern Mediterranean

1. Struggle for control (323-280 BC)
Alexander, rightly called “the Great” by Olympian tradition, died suddenly, shortly after his return to Babylon from Incognita, in 323 BC. A struggle for power followed. Four of his generals fought one another to define their respective areas of control. Their struggles lasted about 40 years. By 280 BC, four relatively stable states had been created. The first controlled southern Hellenia; the second, northeastern Hellenia and western Anatolia; the third, eastern Anatolia, most of Levantia, and lands to the east in Incognita; the fourth, Egypt and south-central Levantia.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Alexander 3rd of Macedon (356-323 BC)

1. Childhood: surprising education (356-340)
Alexander was born on July 20, 356, in Pella, the capital city of kingdom of Macedon in northern Hellenia. His father was Philip 2nd, its ruler.

Philip trusted the early education of his son to Leonidas. Leonidas believed in simplicity and self-discipline. Leonidas liked Alexander marching at night to build up an appetite for breakfast and eating only a light breakfast to still be hungry for dinner. Once Alexander liberally sprinkled a sacrifice with incense. Leonidas told him to use less until he controlled the region it came from. When he conquered that region, Alexander had tons of incense sent to Leonidas with the encouragement to sprinkle it liberally.

Sermon on the Mount: The Blessed (Matthew 5:3-6)

Being a Christian—a witness to the one unconventional god of freedom, truth, love, and vitality—is the hardest way of living we can choose. To better understand what living as a Christian means, we will reflect today on some words of Jesus taken from the Gospel according to Matthew. In Matthew, chapters 5-7 are referred to as the “Sermon on the Mount” because, before he spoke the words written there, Matthew tells us Jesus went up the mountain (Matthew 5:1, New Revised Standard Version, here and following).

In today's passage, Jesus identifies four different ways in which we may be blessed. To be blessed means to be highly favored by God and to be truly joyful in heart. As we shall see, Jesus has some very strange ideas about just who is blessed.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

1. Childhood and youth (1812-1827)
Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, near Portsmouth, England. From ages 4 to 10 he enjoyed a pleasant childhood in Chatham, Kent (on the eastern coast of England). He especially enjoyed reading novels, like Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, with characters who were poor but survived humorous misadventures by being charming and clever.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Narrow Gate and Hard Road (Matthew 7:13-14)

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14, New Revised Standard Version).

We can take two orientations in life. We can devote ourselves to the six conventional Olympian gods of politics, war, technology, sex, money, and consumption. They open for us a very wide gate with plenty of room for our SUV on both sides. Or we can devote ourselves to Jesus.

Jane Austen (1775-1817)

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, in the village of Steventon, Hampshire, England, about 60 miles (96 km) southwest of London. Her father was the pastor of several churches in this rural area. She had five older brothers, an older sister, and one younger brother. Her sister Cassandra remained her closest friend throughout her life. Apart from learning under the instruction of others in 1783 and 1785-1786, Jane educated herself by reading the books in her father’s large eclectic library and through her own observations and reflections. Her father supported her early and continuous writing by giving her all the paper, ink, emotional support, and time she needed.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Brontë Sisters (1816-1855)

1. Triumph and tragedy (1777-1825)
Patrick Brontë was born on St. Patrick’s Day, 1777, into a poor family of farm workers living in northern Ireland. His mother was Roman Catholic but his father was Anglican and raised him that way. Patrick tried work as a blacksmith and weaver before becoming a teacher in 1798. His local priest appreciated his intelligence and helped him get a scholarship to Cambridge University in 1802. He graduated in 1806 and was ordained a priest in the Church of England the following year. While serving as an assistant pastor in 1811, he saw his first book, Cottage Poems, published. In December 1812 he married Maria Branwell (b. 1783). His second book, The Rural Minstrel, was published in 1814.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Holy Spirit, Unholy Flesh (Galatians 5:16-26)

1. Interpretative framework: God and gods, Spirit and Flesh, Christian and Olympian personalities.
There is only one true god of freedom, truth, love, and vitality.  This one odd god is Trinitarian: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s third way of being god. She burns brightly in our Christian hearts and she alone enables us to seek the will of the Father and to affirm the truth of the Son.

There are six false gods of power, falsehood, indifference, and death. These are the six conventional gods of Olympianity: (1) Jupiter, god of politics; (2) Mars, god of war; (3) Vulcan, god of technology; (4) Venus, goddess of sex; (5) Pluto, god of money; and (6) Bacchus, god of consumption.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The First Punic War (264-241)

The Romans referred to the Carthaginians as Phoenicians and to things Phoenician as Punic. This is why the series of wars between Rome and Carthage are referred to as the Punic Wars.

In 275, the Romans finally defeated Pyrrhus and his best Hellenian armies in southern Latinia. By 272 they had taken complete control of all the Hellenian cities in Latinia and controlled all of Latinia south of the Arno River.

Being the devout Olympians they were, and understanding the meaning of life in terms of power as they did, the Romans next turned against their most powerful rival in the western Mediterranean, Carthage, because they thought they could beat them.

Demonic Possession and Theories of Personality (Mark 5:1-15): Conclusion

1. Introduction
At one point during his public ministry, Jesus and his disciples cross the Sea of Galilee by boat and come ashore in the country of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:1). In the spiritual geography of the time, this land on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee was an unclean land, a Gentile land, an Olympian land, a land wholeheartedly devoted to the six Olympian gods, a region belonging to the Kingdom of Darkness.

Jesus, of course, embodies the Kingdom of Light. Wherever he is present, he brings the light of God’s truth, the warmth of God’s love, and the strength of God’s vitality. Wherever he is present, he frees people from being enthralled, bewitched, even possessed by the gods of darkness and their minions.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Early History of Carthage (814-264)

The ancient Phoenicians were Semitic-speaking Canaanites living along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos. Their greatest period of power and prosperity began around 1200 BC. At that time many powerful rivals, including the Myceneans, Hittites, and Egyptians, suffered serious decline. This allowed Phoenician cities to strengthen and prosper through a brisk maritime trade. This period lasted until about 800.

Power and prosperity first went to Byblos. There the earliest example of the Phoenician alphabet, dating around 1200, was found. That alphabet is the ancestor of almost all modern alphabets. Hellenians adopted it around 750 and both Homer and Hesiod used it to write down their great works. Hellenians then shared it with the Etruscans who then gave it to the Romans.

Demonic Possession and Theories of Personality (Mark 5:1-15): Introduction

1. Olympian worldview and biblical point of view
We live in an intensely Olympian society and culture. Because of this, we all grow up with an intensely Olympian personality with its comprehensively Olympian way of thinking. As we experience each moment of the day, we habitually interpret its meaning in a typically Olympian way. Furthermore, our intensely Olympian society rewards us in big but mostly little ways for doing so. It also punishes us in little but sometimes big ways if we don’t.

This applies to our reading of the Bible. We bring our habitual Olympian ways of thinking, our whole Olympian worldview, to it.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3-9, 14-20)

Let us begin with Jesus telling us this parable:
“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (Mark 4:3-9, New Revised Standard Version, here and following).

Friday, July 12, 2013

Early History of Rome (753-264)

Early history (753-509)
According to tradition, Mars fathered twin sons Romulus and Remus. On their mother’s side the twins were descendants of Aeneas a prince of Troy. As infants they were ordered to be drowned but were saved and raised by a female wolf. Later they argued violently about where to start a new city. Romulus murdered his brother, started his new city on April 21, 753 BC, named it Rome after himself, and located it on the southern bank of the Tiber River about 19 miles (30 km) from the Mediterranean Sea.

Our Personalities: Christian and Olympian

Perhaps the most common understanding of human nature is to think of ourselves as having one unified personality. Our personality may be good or evil, it may be more or less integrated, it may be developing or decaying, it certainly has strengths and weaknesses, but it is more or less continuously identifiable as ours over a long period of time.

Let us consider, however, the possibility that each one of us, from cradle to grave, has at least two distinct personalities: one Christian and the other Olympian. Let us consider that we each have these two quite distinct personalities because each one is organized around absolutely different gods.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Jesus, Family, Satan, and Freedom (Mark 3:19-35)

In the second gospel, Mark presents us with a very interesting sandwich of passages in the second half of chapter 3. He starts (1) by talking about the family of Jesus coming to him (3:19b-21), (2) interrupts this story with enemies of Jesus accusing him of being in league with Satan (verses 22-27), (3) has Jesus responding creatively to this accusation (vs. 28-30) and then (4) to his family (vs. 31-35).

Plutarch (ca 45-120)

Plutarch (Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus) was born into a wealthy family living in a small town about 20 miles (32 km) east of Delphi. As a twenty-year-old, he studied for a year at Plato’s Academy in Athens. He completed his education by travelling around Hellenia and the western coast of Anatolia and by visiting the great cities of Alexandria and Rome. As an adult he primarily lived in the town of his birth, actively involved himself in its governance, wrote regularly, and interpreted the cryptic prophecies of the Oracle of Delphi as a priest of Apollo.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Ovid (43 BC-AD 17)

Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) was born on March 20, 43 BC, into an upper-class family living in Sulmo (today’s Sulmona) about 100 miles (160 km) east of Rome. His father sent him to Rome to learn rhetoric and become a lawyer. He then lived in Athens, the Levant, and Sicily before returning to Rome and working as a minor bureaucrat. His heart always in writing poetry, he abandoned civil service, did what he loved most, and gave his first public recital in 25. He socialized with other poets enjoying the financial support of wealthy patrons and, among others, became friends with Horace. Along with Horace and Virgil, Ovid is considered one of the best poets in Latin.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Making Religion Serve Politics (1 Kings 12:25-33)

Before 1095 BC, Yahweh himself served Israel as its king. In that year, however, the people of Israel demanded a human king so that they could be like everyone else. Yahweh told Samuel his prophet to warn the people that a human king would only exploit and enslave them. When they still insisted, Yahweh granted them their wish (see 1 Samuel 8).

Virgil (70-19 BC)

Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro) was born on October 15, 70 BC, in the village of Andes, near Mantua, in the geocultural province of Alpinia. Although he was shy and frequently ill as a teenager, his father provided him with the education he needed to practice law. He wrote poetry instead.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Livy (59 BC-AD 17)

Livy (Titus Livius Patavinus) was born in 59 BC into a wealthy family living in the prosperous city of Patavium (today’s Padua near Venice). In the 30s he moved to Rome with enough money to devote himself entirely to writing the great city’s history. Shortly after his arrival he met Octavius, ruler of Rome, and remained a lifelong friend of the family.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Boethius (ca 480-525)

Anicius Manlius Severinus  Boëthius, commonly called Boethius, was born around AD 480 in Rome to one of its leading families. His ancestors included two emperors and several other leading politicians.

His father, however, died when Boethius was perhaps 10 years old. Another leading family adopted him. It was his foster father who inspired his love of philosophy and encouraged his study of Greek. This was unusual: by the end of the 400s knowledge of Greek was dying out it the Latin West.

Monday, July 1, 2013

God’s People Reject God in Favor of a Human Ruler (1 Samuel 8:1-22)

Olympianity is the oldest religion in the world and has always been the most popular. It is the religion of power. Whole societies devote themselves to the six gods of Olympianity--to the gods of politics, war, technology, sex, money, and consumption--to get more power in each of these essential areas of life.

In 1921 BC, the one odd god of freedom invited Abraham to leave his Olympian society. Yahweh invited Abraham to be his companion and to learn a very different way of living. Abraham accepted this invitation, left his city, and traveled with his family to live with Yahweh in an unknown land.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Nowhere to Lay Our Heads: On the Road with Jesus (Luke 9:51-62)

On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what spirit you are of, for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them.” Then they went on to another village (Luke 9:52b-56, New Revised Standard Version, here and following).

Sometimes people do not act as we expect or even like. Here some people have actually refused hospitality to Jesus Christ Son of the Living God. How rude is that? Evil enough, James and John believe, to justify their sudden death and perhaps even their eternal damnation.

Happily, a different spirit animates Jesus. He embodies the one odd god of truth, freedom, love, and vitality. He came to give live and not to take it.

Benedict of Nursia (ca 480-543)

Benedict was born around 480 into an upper-middle-class family living in Nursia (today’s Norcia), Latinia, about 150 miles (180 km) northeast of Rome.

By the time he was 20, he had received a good education in Rome and had met a woman who had fallen in love with him.  Even so he tired of the devotion of his friends to Venus goddess of sex and Bacchus god of consumption. He left them in Rome to develop a more meaningful way of living.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Collapse of Our World and Our Creative Response to It

Throughout history, we find four types of social movements: progressive, conservative, restorative, and preservative. Progressives believe the golden age lies in the future; conservatives, in the present; and restoratives, in the past. Preservatives seek to save the best of every age from destruction.

For all of us in Olympia—for all of our societies, all of our cultures, and all of us as individuals—the most significant reality since 1750 has been the growth of the Global Technological System (GTS). It has now reached the point in intensity, extensity, and complexity that all of our societies, cultures, and selves are thoroughly integrated into it with no discernible method of escape.

Social Movements: Progressive, Conservative, Restorative, Preservative

At any given moment in our Olympian society, there are always four movements afoot: progressive, conservative, restorative, and preservative. They vary in relative strength. Sometimes one is more popular, sometimes another. They also vary in relative creativity. At times each is creative and sometimes each is destructive.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sappho (ca 630-ca 570 BC)

Little biographical information about Sappho survives. We know she was born in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos into a wealthy family. With her family she was temporarily exiled to Sicily around 600. Later she returned to Lesbos and remained there until her death. She wrote poetry and sang these poems while playing the lyre.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Pindar (ca 522-443 BC)

Pindar was born around 522 BC near Thebes into a wealthy family that traced its roots back to Cadmus. His permanent address always remained Thebes even though he traveled widely.

As a young adult he lived in Athens for awhile to study poetry. In 500, and for the rest of Pindar’s life and beyond, Athens was by far the most important center of culture in all Hellenia. Pindar loved Athens and never spoke a bad word about it. This was difficult because, during his lifetime, leaders in Athens and Thebes were often bitter political enemies. Once leaders of his hometown of Thebes fined him 5000 drachmas for praising Athens in a poem. Athenians countered with a gift of 10,000 drachmas.

Jerusalem, Jupiter, Judas, and Jesus

Tradition tells us that Jesus entered Jerusalem in a highly meaningful way. [T]he whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice…, saying “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:37a, 38a, New Revised Standard Version, here and following). Let us imagine the day. A great number of Jesus' supporters publicly cheered for him as the long-awaited ruler sent by God to save his people from their enemies.

Then Jesus got even more provocative. [H]e entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers” (19:45-46).

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Sociology of Olympianity

Olympianity is the world's oldest, most popular, yet least recognized religion. Examining it from a sociological point of view will help us to understand, more clearly, how Olympian societies, cultures, and personalities function in everyday life.

Olympianity: the religion
There are six gods that rule our world. They are (1) Jupiter, god of politics; (2) Mars, god of war; (3) Vulcan, god of technology; (4) Venus, goddess of sex; (5) Pluto, god of money; and (6) Bacchus, god of consumption.

Why Bother with Tales from History?

Why bother with tales from history? Strangely enough, writing, reading, thinking about, and discussing them can be an act of piety. It can be one way we honor our ancestors. By appreciating tales from history together, we may rightly celebrate anew all the truth, goodness, and beauty to which our illustrious ancestors witnessed.

Limitations on Truth: Power

Two of our great privileges in life are to learn the truth and to share it with others. Learning and sharing happen only by grace. They happen only when Jesus freely speaks to us in love and the Holy Spirit freely enables us in love to discern and affirm those words. Then we are able to think, speak, and act in ways which increase our strength of soul, edify (build up) others, and glorify Abba (God the Father).

Given the tremendous goodness and beauty of witnessing to the truth, one might think that our society would actively encourage us to do it. Our society would if it were unconventional. Sadly, it is wholly committed to the dreary gods of power.

Limitations on Truth: Delirium

We humans face limitations as we seek to understand the truth. We bother with the truth because knowing and affirming the truth frees us to love and leads us into fullness of life.

The first limitation confronts us through no fault of our own. It is the limitation to understanding imposed by the inescapable simplicity of our thinking. Our thinking can never be complex enough to comprehend society, creation, or even ourselves, let alone God.

Limitations on Truth: Desperate Conformity

We may define society as all the organized social groups that exist in any given area. Examples of common organized social groups include families, churches, schools, offices, and factories.

We may define culture as all the meanings and means shared by members of a given society. Meanings are all the ideas we carry in our minds. Important meanings include beliefs, values, and norms. Beliefs are our ideas about the nature of things. Values are our ideas about what is important. Norms are our ideas about right and wrong. The beliefs, values, and norms of a culture are all interrelated.

Limitations on Truth: Bias for Ourselves and against Others

Knowing the truth is hard to do. One reason: reality is far more complex than we can comprehend. This is a limitation that confronts all of us even at our very best.

Sadly, we are rarely at our very best. Not only is our thinking unavoidably limited. It is also inescapably flawed. Our thinking is corrupted by sin. It remains flawed because of the break in our relationship with God. It remains flawed because of the corruption of our thinking made possible by evil powers that persist in that break.

Jesus emphasized one flaw from which our thinking suffers because of sin:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye (Matthew 7:1-5, New Revised Standard Version).

So one flaw in our thinking, caused by sin, is this: our bias. Our thinking is biased in favor of ourselves and against others. It is also biased in favor of our group against other groups.

Because of this bias, we exaggerate our own virtues and strengths. Typically we even imagine ourselves having virtues and strengths that we lack. In other words, our biased interpretation of reality even constructs facts to fit it.

Conversely, because of this bias, we also exaggerate the vices and weaknesses of others. Typically, we even imagine others to have vices and weaknesses that they lack. In other words, again, our biased interpretation of reality even constructs facts to fit it.

As human beings, we all have this bias against truth almost all the time. Those of us who are committed to living as radiant witnesses to Jesus will experience this as a constant challenge. As Christians, we want to share the light, love, and vitality of Jesus with others. This bias limits that.

Happily, Jesus is the truth who frees us from this bias. He doesn’t do this automatically, or all the time, or permanently. But he does do it. And when he does it, he enables us to love others. He enables us to express that love by affirming the virtues and strengths in others. He also enables us to express that love by acknowledging our own vices and weaknesses.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.

Limitations on Truth: Complexity of Reality

Knowing the truth is hard to do. To begin with, reality is far more complex than we can understand. Even at our rare best, our minds are too simple to comprehend the complexity of reality.

Four Levels of Democracy

Jacques Ellul identified these four levels of democracy in his book entitled The Political Illusion. First published in French and English editions in the 1960s, the book remains a powerful cure for illusions still plaguing us today.

1. Political. This first level of democracy is the one we are most familiar with. Primarily it’s the level of candidates, issues, and voting.

2. Social. This is the second level of democracy. For political democracy to work well, social democracy must be reasonably well established. In a healthy social democracy, wealth is distributed between citizens in a relatively equitable way.

Social Classes

Olympianity has been the dominant religion of Olympia throughout its history. Olympianity is the religion of power. Consequently, we may identify the social classes of Olympia primarily in terms of power.

Ancient, Medieval, and Modern No More

Our modern Olympian culture conventionally divides the history of Olympia (see Glossary) into three periods: ancient, medieval, and modern. Ancient history is understood to begin with the emergence of cities and writing about 3000 BC. It ends with the collapse of the western Roman empire around AD 400. Modern history begins with the Renaissance of Roman culture in Florence around 1400 and continues to our day. Renaissance thinkers were the first to use the term, “Middle Ages,” to describe the historical period between their own day and the days of Rome which they aspired to relive. So the Middle Ages span the centuries between 400 and 1400.

Different Religions Use Different Calendars

In Olympia, we have four major religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Olympianity. Each of these religions has its own calendar. That’s because each religion has its own beliefs, values, and norms and these determine how best to understand time.

Dividing History into Periods: Third to Seventh

We may divide the history of Olympia into different periods using religion as our primary criterion. Previously we talked about the beginning of history and its first two great ages: the Age of Olympianity (4004-1921 BC) and the Age of Yahwism (1921-4 BC). Today we will cover the remaining great periods.

Dividing History into Periods: First and Second

We may divide the last 6,000 years of history into different periods using religion as our primary category. Today we will cover the beginning of history and its first two great periods.

4004 BC Creation
Following the Bible, we learn that Yahweh created Heaven and Earth, as well as Adam and Eve, in 4004 BC. Shortly after their creation, however, Adam and Eve broke their relationship with Yahweh, one another, and the rest of creation. With that fall from grace began our first period of human history: the Age of Olympianity.

Space and Time

Space. I speak of Olympia as a special place. Olympia includes the lands we call Europe, Southwest Asia, and North Africa.

Olympia is a good space for our purposes. Not only did Olympianity enjoy some of its finest moments here. Olympia has also been home to three other historically significant religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. By focusing on Olympia, we may remember and learn from the interactions of people affirming these different religious traditions.

Society, Culture, Religion, and Langugage

Pitirim Sorokin, a sorely underrated sociologist, wrote an insightful book, Society, Culture, and Personality, which was published in 1947. In that book he provides us with an understanding of society and culture which is still helpful.

Society. We may define society as all the organized social groups that exist in the area we are studying. In the days of the pharaohs, for example, the organized social groups of Egyptian society included ordinary families, the state bureaucracy, the priesthood, and stonecutters with their assistants. All of these social groups were organized. They each had members interacting with one another to achieve shared goals.

History: Facts Important But Interpretation More So

We might say that history is the sequence of events, involving various people, happening at a certain time and place. We also use the word history to mean our retelling of those events.

History in the first sense of the word involves a certain number of facts. These facts are the real people, present at a real time and place, who are participating in real events. History in the second sense is our interpretation of those facts. It is the meaning we give to the facts.

These are nice simple distinctions. The truth, however, is more complex.

Jupiter: Justifier of Political Power

Jupiter is one of the six gods of Olympianity. Olympianity is the oldest, most popular, yet least recognized religion in Olympia and the world.

Like any other self-respecting god, Jupiter provides us with the justification we crave. We human beings are weak and fragile creatures. We cannot possibly overcome our sense of guilt ourselves. We must have the help of culturally approved gods, and the shared devotion of others to those gods, to have any sense of justification, forgiveness, and merit. Jupiter does this for us.

Jupiter: Political Power as the Measure of Our Importance

Olympianity is the oldest, most popular, yet least recognized religion in Olympia today. Almost all of us participate in this religion and devote ourselves to its six gods. Using their Roman names, these gods are (1) Jupiter, god of politics; (2) Mars, god of war; (3) Vulcan, god of technology; (4) Venus, goddess of sex; (5) Pluto, god of money; and (6) Bacchus, god of consumption.

One purpose of any god is to tell us who is important. The most important people in any society are those who stand closest to the gods and so are central. The least important are those who stand farthest away and so are marginal.

Olympianity: The Religion of Power

Olympia is the name I give the land of Europe, Southwest Asia, and North Africa. Olympia is important as a world all its own, as a microcosm of our world as a whole, and as the center of a history that now dominates the whole world.

The oldest, most popular, yet least recognized religion in Olympia and the world is Olympianity. In Olympianity, people devote themselves to six gods. Using their old Roman names, these six gods are (1) Jupiter, god of politics; (2) Mars, god of war; (3) Vulcan, god of technology; (4) Venus, goddess of sex; (5) Pluto, god of money; and (6) Bacchus, god on consumption.

Olympianity: Today's Most Popular Religion

Olympia is the name I give the land of Europe, Southwest Asia, and North Africa. In that land, people are commonly thought to participate in one of three religions: Judaism, Christianity, or Islam (in order of historical appearance).

There is, however, a fourth religion in that land. It is the oldest of the four. Ancient Greeks and Romans practiced this religion. Because they thought their gods lived on Mount Olympus, we may call their religion Olympianity.

Signs Negative and Positive

In 1 Samuel (4:10-11), we learn that the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant in battle against the Israelites. The ark was a wooden box covered with gold about  4.5 x 1.5 x 1.5 feet (1.5 x 0.5 x 0.5 m) in size. Small. On its lid were statues of two small angels in gold. Inside it were kept the stone tablets upon which God had written the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Hesiod (ca 750 BCE)

Hesiod was born in a small village in Hellenia named Ascra, at the foot of Mount Helicon, about 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Athens. He never cared for the climate of his hometown, complaining it was “cruel in winter, hard in summer, never pleasant.” He lived there his whole life, running a farm and writing poetry. His two most important works are Theogony and Works and Days. Like Homer, he wrote or dictated both around 750 BC. With Homer, he provided ancient Hellenians with their shared understanding of the gods, creation, and human nature.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Homer (ca 750 BC)

Life. We know too little about a person as important to the history of Olympia as Homer. Tradition says he was born in Smyrna on the west coast of Anatolia about 190 miles (300 km) south of the ruins of Troy. Blind as an adult, he lived by celebrating the tales of Troy in song to entertain and educate the courts of the many small kingdoms scattered around the Aegean. Around 750 BC an anonymous scribe used the Greek alphabet, just emerging at that time, to write down Homer’s tales to entertain and educate us.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Classical Athens (508-323): Sublimity and Stupidity

Tradition refers to Cleisthenes (ca 570-ca 508 BC) as the father of democracy because he restored, reformed, and stabilized its practice in Athens beginning in 508. While many Athenians resented this form of government, it was a creative response to existing challenges. The truth, goodness, and beauty of that moment lay in aiding the success of that experiment in an untried but profound method of government. The Athenians that did so established the political context for what would be the most creative period in the history of Athens and as creative a period as any city in Olympia has ever experienced.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Truth and Appearances (Luke 20:45-47)

After his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus warns his listeners against acting like the scribes (Luke 20:45-47). In his day scribes were professional religious leaders and theologians. What distressed Jesus was that these leaders of the people of God were acting like conventional Olympians. Jesus warns his listeners against following their example.

Classical Athens: Twilight (404-323)

Sparta and Athens in Twilight (404-322)
Spartan decline (404-371)
With the Spartan victory over Athens, resentment sprang up against Sparta. Various battles between shifting alliances of municipal states continued. In 387, Spartans agreed to abandon all Hellenian cities in Anatolia in exchange for Persian help against Spartan enemies in Hellenia. In this way the Persians were able to accomplish in 387, through diplomacy, what they had failed to do at the battles of Marathon (490), Salamis (480), and Plataea (479).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Reflections on Itinerant Paul and Hostility

The years AD 49 to 61 were the twelve most important in the life of the apostle Paul. During those years he shared the good news about an unconventional Jesus with people in the Levant, Anatolia, Hellenia, and Latinia. He started several new congregations of unconventional witnesses. Most importantly, he defended the unconventionality of his witness and theirs in a short series of letters. These letters later gained world-historical significance as part of the New Testament of the Christian Bible. Without them we would witness much less clearly to Jesus: the one odd god/man of freedom, truth, love, and vitality.

Classical Athens: Stunning Creativity Despite Suicidal War (431-404)

Sparta and Athens against each other (478-404)
Second Peloponnesian War (431-404)
The second Peloponnesian war started in 431. Tradition divides it into three periods: 431-421, with Spartan attacks on Attica and Athenian attacks on coastal Peloponnesian cities; 415-413, with a large Athenian force attacking Syracuse in Sicily and getting completing destroyed; and 411-404, beginning with Spartans and Persians bribing unhappy Athenian allies to rebel and ending with the surrender of Athens.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Classical Athens: Foolishness, Truth, and Beauty (478-431)

Sparta and Athens against Persia (498-478)
After suffering defeats at Salamis (480) and Plataea (479), the second Persian army of invasion left Hellenia just as the first had 11 years before. Following its retreat, the Hellenian cities of Anatolia revolted as they had in 499. This time no Persian army retaliated. In 478, Hellenian soldiers led by Pausanias of Sparta captured the city of Byzantium (later Constantinople) and freed it from Persian control.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Classical Athens: Democracy, Victory, Theater

By 700 BC the municipal state of Athens had become the largest and richest in Hellenia. Just over 100 years later Solon, its most illustrious lawgiver, gave it a meaningfully democratic constitution. Powerful men in the city tested this new reality for some time.

Cleisthenes (born 570?) By 508, however, Cleisthenes had reestablished and reformed the constitution of Solon in ways that allowed Athens to endure as a participatory democracy. For this reason, tradition fondly refers to Cleisthenes as the father of Athenian democracy.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Choose Life! (Deuteronomy 30:15-19)

Moses was born in 1571 BC (Ussher). For the first 40 years of his life he lived in the court of the ruler of Egypt. He later had to run away from Egypt, however, and lived the next 40 years in the wilderness of Sinai tending sheep. Finally, in 1451 BC, the Lord, the one odd god of freedom, truth, love, and vitality, sent him back to command the ruler of Egypt to liberate the people of Israel.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Athens: Beginnings to 479 BC

The two most important municipal states in Hellenia between 800 and 300 BC were Sparta and Athens. Sparta dominated the large peninsula called the Peloponnese while Athens controlled the area known as Attica.

People had settled at the site of Athens before 3000 BC. They first built the city on a hilltop surrounded by a fertile plain about 12 miles (20 km) from the Mediterranean Sea.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Sparta (1200-500 BC)

Dark ages descended upon Hellenia (see Glossary) around 1200 BC. Minoan and Mycenean civilizations were destroyed and nothing creative replaced them. Hellenian societies and cultures only began to shine again after 800 BC.

Reflections on Young Paul and Moral Codes

Paul was born in AD 1 and raised as a Jew. He grew up thinking of himself as one person belonging to the one people chosen by God to live as a unique witness to him.

In AD 27 he even moved to Jerusalem to study with the famous teacher Gamaliel. He committed himself as an adult to learning from the best possible teacher what living in the best possible way might mean.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Paul the Apostle: Painful Years, Liberating Letters (49-61)

In 49, Paul suggested to Barnabas that they return to the congregations they had started on Cyprus and in Anatolia. They had sharp disagreements, though, and decided to stop working together. Barnabas sailed for Cyprus and into obscurity. With a friend named Silas and the blessing of the church in Antioch, Paul left for Anatolia.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Paul the Apostle: Years of Transition (32-49)

Until confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus, Saul led a thoroughly conventional life. Because he was a Pharisaic Jew, he thought of himself as a faithful witness to God. In truth he was simply an emotionally intense if smart Olympian.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Paul the Apostle: Birth to Conversion (AD 1-32)

A definitive biography of Paul the Apostle is impossible to write. We lack sufficient documentation from his times. In interpreting what documentation we do have, scholars give different dates for his birth, missionary tours, and death, and debate which letters he wrote and when.

We have enough information, however, to write a plausible biography of Paul. By doing so, we may organize what information we do know about Paul into a story that makes his life easier to remember and celebrate.