About Corazon

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cooking With Corazon, Episode XVII

Wild Lemon Pepper Salmon
w/ Parmesan Zucchini and Squash


I LOOOOOVE fish! Simply put, it's hard to find anything better than a well-prepared fillet of delicious salmon, cod, trout, mahi-mahi, etc. Except perhaps a delicious fillet of fish AND some fresh baked veggies! Makes for a very healthy, hearty, and heavenly meal!

Last night I got back into the swing of semi-regular cooking by creating the following dish: I call it wild lemon pepper salmon w/ parmesan zucchini and squash. Take a look:



In all honesty, this was EXCELLENT! I know that probably every person who enjoys cooking thinks their food is better than it really is but this dish really was all I thought it would be and more. Here's the recipe:

-One 1 lb. fillet of WILD salmon (I emphasize wild because most salmon from a grocery store is farmed. Now, there's nothing wrong with regular farmed salmon, but if you want to get the most from your fish get the wild. It's only like $2 or $3 more and worth every penny).

-1 cup Kroger Lemon Pepper Marinade (at least that's what I used but any lemon pepper marinade would probably do).

-1/2 tbs. lemon pepper seasoning

-1/2 tbs. rosemary.

-1/2 tbs. thyme.

-1/2 red onion (chopped).

-2 zucchini (chopped).

-2 squash (chopped).

-1 cup parmesan cheese.

-Salt and pepper to taste.

Directions:

1.) Marinade fish with lemon pepper marinade, lemon pepper seasoning, rosemary and thyme. Top with chopped red onions and bake in tin foil for 35-45 minutes at 300-315.

2.) Chop zucchini and squash to desired size. Place on baking sheet (with a little oil). Top with parmesan cheese and salt to taste. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

3.) SCARF!!!!!!

This really was delicious. Even my kids (who never eat anything but candy) loved it. I give it an A for sure!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Romans 13 and the American Revolution

Over at my other blog (American Creation) a large debate over the significance and interpretation of Romans chapter 13 has been raging for the past few months. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Romans 13, it is a chapter in which the Apostle Paul lays out some of the "rules" regarding a Christian's duty to follow civic leaders. Here are a few of the more important verses from that chapter:
1. Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

2. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

3. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

4. For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

5. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

6. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
As is evident in the aforementioned verses, Paul admonishes the Christian populace to submit to even the wickedest of leaders because "Whosoever resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God." In other words, to defy a leader is to defy God himself.

Immediately prior to the American Revolution, a decent percentage of theologians became deeply concerned with the Biblical implications of the American Revolution. Was God going to be angry at the colonists for their rebellion to the British King? Especially when we consider that Paul was admonishing the Christians to submit to the horrific reign of Nero? After all, if submission to Nero was imperative to the salvation of the practicing Christian, what right did the American colonists have to rebel against a King who wasn't nearly as bad?

As I mentioned before, this has been a very intense and thorough debate over at my group blog. I have watched, over the past several months, my fellow blog brothers debate this issue into dust. This debate usually follows the same rough outline where one person will enter the ring armed to the teeth with quotes from Locke, Rutherford, Sidney, Mayhew, Calvin, Jefferson, etc., etc., etc. Not soon after, my email inbox will be full of comment notifications, full of anxious rebukings, most of which are, like the original comment itself, delivered with powerful counter-punch material from some of the same sources. Now, it's not that I dislike this back-and-forth debating over this singular (and in my opinion, relatively unimportant) issue. On the contrary. I have found the debate to be both extremely enlightening and quite entertaining. I've admired the abilities and passions of the "key participants" (you know who you are) along with the enormous arsenal of knowledge and understanding they possess.

With that said, my personal beliefs are that the Romans 13 issue was a mere side issue compared to the other pressing challenges taking place. In a nutshell, I simply do not believe that this was as big of an issue as many are making it out to be. Please, don't get me wrong here. I realize that it was a major issue for many people. After all, obeying the will of God is no small sack of potatoes, and I realize that many people believed that salvation (not just worldly freedom) hung in the balance. However, if we take a step back and look at the grand picture, I believe we can see that the American Revolution was much larger than one simple chapter from the "Good Book" and that war with Britain was going to happen with or without Romans 13.

With all of that said, I am going to try and play along as best I can. Let's assume that I am completely wrong and that the Romans 13/God sanctioning rebellion was not only an issue but THE ISSUE of the American Revolution. Given this new sense of importance I still maintain that the debate surrounding Romans 13 was not that big of a deal for those involved in the American Revolution.

Why you ask? Because the matter had already been resolved...

...

...At lest for those who established the American republic.

Long before the Founding Fathers arrived on the scene the debate over the Kingship/rule of law had been raging for centuries. As has been pointed out numerous times on this blog, a number of important theologians, thinkers, and civic leaders took up this very cause as their own. Everyone from Locke to Rutherford, Sidney to Montesquieu helped to mold how the founding generation would come to understand the relationship between God and government, government and the people and the people's duty to government.

Much has been made of Romans 13 and rightfully so. But there is another Bible chapter to consider; one that inspired a certain Samuel Rutherford to challenge Divine Right kingship. In Deuteronomy 17 we read:
14 When thou art come unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me;

15 Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.

16 But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the Lord hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.

17 Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.

18 And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that
he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:

19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them.


20 That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.
For men like Rutherford, this was clear-cut evidence from God himself that the LAW was king, not the other way around.

Algernon Sidney, whom Thomas Jefferson credited (along with Locke) as being one of the primary sources for the American conceptualization of individual liberty, agreed with Rutherford's interpretation that the rule of law was to be superior to any kingship. To defend his thesis, Sidney appealed to the very laws of nature:
If there be any precept, that by the light of nature we can in matters of this kind look upon as certain, it is, that the government of a people should be given to him that can best perform the duties of it. No man has it for himself, or from himself; but for and from those, who, before he had it, were his equals, that he may do good to them. If there were a man, who in wisdom, valour, justice, and purity, surpassed all others, he might be called a king by nature; because he is best able to bear the weight of so great a charge; and, like a good shepherd, to lead the people to do good . . . Solomon tells us, 'That a wise child is better than an old and foolish king.'

[...]

If governments arise from the consent of men, and are instituted by men according to their own inclinations, they did therein seek their own good; for the will is ever drawn by some real good, or the appearance of it. This is that which man seeks by all the regular or irregular motions of his mind. Reason and passion, virtue and vice, do herein concur.... A people therefore that sets up [government does it so]...that it may be well with themselves and their posterity.
Which of course sounds awfully familiar to:
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
For Jefferson, who was never a big fan of St. Paul to begin with (you may recall that his version of the Bible contains none of Paul's epistles), Sidney's interpretation of law rang strong and clear as it pierced through the "old school" interpretation of complete submission to God's rulers. In a letter to his chubby little New England buddy John Adams, Jefferson points out just how appealing Sidney's view of government was:
I have lately undertaken to read Algernon Sidney on government...As often as I have read it, and fumbled it over, it now excites fresh admiration that this work has excited so little interest in the literary world. As splendid an edition of it as the art of printing can produce —- as well for the intrinsic merit of the work, as for the proof it brings of the bitter sufferings of the advocates of liberty from that time to this, and to show the slow progress of moral, philosophical, and political illumination in the world —- ought to be now published in America.
Of course skeptics will point out that the American Revolution cannot, in any way, be reconciled with Romans 13 because if Paul admonishes Christians to endure the treacheries of Nero, how can they possibly justify rebellion against a king who simply raised their taxes? Perhaps they are right. There may be no biblical way to justify the American Revolution. I suppose one could cite Biblical examples such as Deuteronomy 17, 1 Kings 11, Daniel's civil disobedience, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego's refusal to obey Nebuchadneezar's laws, Moses, etc., but I doubt much of it would stick. Simply put,much of this debate is based off of personal biblical interpretation.

And such was the case with our founders. The moment that Jefferson, Madison, etc. committed to embracing the perspectives of Locke, Sidney, etc. they also committed, perhaps subconscientiously, to rejecting a literal interpretation of Paul's admonition in Romans 13.

But Paul's lesson wasn't completely ignored either. Yes, the framers of the Revolution were not about to let some obscure chapter from the Bible deter them but at the same time, they weren't about to rush into a reckless rebellion either. The trick was knowing when abuses from tyrannical leaders required a response from the people. Again, Algernon Sidney helped to provide the answer:
Those who had wit and learning, with something of ingenuity and modesty, though they believed that nations might possibly make an ill use of their power, and were very desirous to maintain the cause of kings, as far as they could put any good color upon it, yet never denied, that some had suffered justly (which could not be, if there were no power of judging them); animate them to persist in the most flagitious courses, with assurance of perpetual impunity, or engage nations in an inevitable necessity of suffering all manner of outrages. They knew that the actions of those princes, who are not altogether detestable, might be defended by particular reasons drawn from them, or their laws or their country; and would neither undertake the defense of such as were abominable, nor bring princes, to whom they wished well, into the odious extremity of justifying themselves by arguments that favored Caligula and Nero, as well as themselves, and that must be taken for a confession, that they were as bad as could be imagined.

[...]

They who are already fallen into all that is odious, and shameful and miserable, cannot justify fear...Let the dangers never be so great, there is the possibility of safety while men have life, hands, arms and courage to use them but that people must surely perish who tamely suffer themselves to be oppressed.
Or in other words, it is completely silly (and contrary to the laws of nature) to endure inept leaders who had demonstrated their incompetence or their ill will towards their subjects. Or as Jefferson put it:
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

[...]

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
And while this debate is likely to rage on for months (or maybe even years) here on this fair little blog, I remain convinced that the Founders' understanding of kings and law had already been shaped by centuries of European debate on the matter. Men like Locke, Sidney, Rutherford, etc. (along with many before and after them) helped to mold (and perhaps justify) the arguments for Revolution.

But again, it doesn't really matter because war was a' coming regardless of what the Bible said.

And that's a fact, Jack!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Gary Nash on "Conservative Culture Warriors" and "Historical Revision"

Historian Gary Nash of UCLA is not only one of the most respected historians on early American history, but has also received praise for the fact that his scholarship has breathed new life into America's sense of historical appreciation. In recent years, Nash's work has challenged many of the traditional assumptions surrounding America' founding. Everything from the role of slavery and women to the influence of religion on America's 18th century revolution has been a part of Nash's "assault" on traditional early American historiography.

In his most recent book, The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America, Nash challenges the idea that the American Revolution was merely a conflict between rival elites in Britain and America. Instead, Nash boldly proclaims the revolution as being inspired and led by the masses.

In addition, Nash challenges a number of the beliefs held by Christian Nationalists in regards to America's founding. Nash proclaims America's establishment and success as being the result of enlightened secularist ideology, which caused the American populace to challenge the social, political and religious norms of their day. In so doing, America became not a "Christian" government but a secular institution, which sought to keep religion and government separate from one another.

Naturally, the scholarship of Gary Nash does not sit well with hard-core Christian apologists such as David Barton and others. In response, Christian zealots have sought to label historians like Nash as being "unpatriotic" or as "secular revisionists" that are bent on eliminating any and all remnants of America's "Christian heritage."

Gary Nash was not ignorant of the fact that his work would stir up hostilities. In his introduction, Nash addresses his critics by writing the following:
When historians fix their gaze downward or write a warts-and-all American history, they often offend people who cherish what they remember as a more coherent, worshipful, and supposedly annealing rendition of the past. In the history of the 1990s, many conservative-culture warriors called historians offering new interpretations of the American Revolution – or any other part of American history – “history bandits,” “history pirates,” or, sneeringly, “revisionists” intent on kidnapping history with no respect for a dignified rendition of the past. Yet the explosion of historical knowledge has invigorated history and increased its popularity...

Unsurprisingly, those of the old school do not like to hear the question "whose history?" It is unsettling for them to see the intellectual property of the American Revolution, once firmly in the hands of a smaller and more homogeneous historians' guild, taken out of their safe boxes, put on the table, and redivided. Yet what could be more democratic than to reopen questions about the Revolution's sources, conduct, and results? And what is the lasting value of a "coherent" history if the coherence is obtained by eliminating the jagged edges, where much of the vitality of the people is to be found? How can we expect people to think of the American Revolution as their own when they can see no trace of their forbears in it?
Then Nash puts the smack down on those who favor a "traditional" interpretation of the American Revolution as being exclusively a conflict of the elite:
A history of inclusion has another claim to make. Only a history that gives play to all the constituent parts of society can overcome the defeatist notion that the past was inevitably determined...Honest history can impart a sense of how the lone individual counts, how the possibilities of choice are infinite, how human capacity for both good and evil is ever present, and how dreams of a better society are in the hands of the dispossessed as much as in the possession of the putative brokers of our society's future.
If this is "secular revisionism," or "historical piracy" then count me in!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas to All

To all of my family, friends, readers, etc. have a very Merry Christmas!

Don't Forget Trenton

Merry Christmas everyone! As you enjoy the festivities, keep in mind that today also carries a special American tribute that should not go forgotten.

233 years ago on this date George Washington and the Continental Army made their daring advance on Trenton to attack the Hessian soldiers encamped at the city. The move was risky to say the least. Trenton was defended by 1,500 Hessian mercenaries, who were expecting to pass through a relatively calm winter encampment at the city. Washington, however, saw an opportunity to gain a moral victory (moral because winning Trenton was not a major tactical victory) for his army. After all, this was the same army that had been thoroughly routed by the British at New York, where they were forced to flee on a number of occasions. As a result, the Continental Army was in extreme disarray and Washington himself was being questioned by the delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. In fact, some even suggested that the General should be replaced for his poor performance at New York.

It was under these tough circumstances that Thomas Paine wrote the words to his epic pamphlet, The Crisis, which was written just two days before the planned attack on Trenton:
THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but "to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER" and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.
With such dire circumstances all around them, Washington decided to roll the dice. An attack on Trenton would secure a for the Continental Army a legitimate moral victory, one which would help to inspire the allegiance of more colonials to the cause of independence. Despite the benefits, Washington was not unaware of the tremendous risk he was taking. In a very real sense this was an all-or-nothing gamble (It is therefore no surprise that Washington would pen a note on his desk that read, "Victory or Death").

To make a long story short, Washington and the Continental Army won an astonishing victory at Trenton, capturing over 1/3 of the entire Hessian garrison. Since the Hessians expected a quiet winter encampment, they chose to enjoy the holidays by staying up late and drinking away their Christmas Eve. As a result, the army was caught asleep, hung over, and disorganized upon Washington's arrival. Here is a clip from the movie The Crossing, which captures the feel of that Christmas morning:



The Army then goes on to rout the Hessians at Trenton. In the process, only 2 continental soldiers lost their lives. In addition, only five were wounded (including James Monroe, who eventually became our 5th president).

So, Merry Continental Army Kicks Hessian Butt Day/Christmas!!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Colonial Christmas

Being that we are only days from celebrating Christmas, I have chosen to look at how early colonial Americans understood this celebration, which has become so mainstream in our modern era. Contrary to what most of us might think, Christmas has not been a predominant American holiday throughout our history. In fact, it has been anything but that.

This bright and joyful holiday that we celebrate every December, which is no doubt the most popular holiday in modern day America, was seen in a very different light by the earliest Americans. Instead of lavishly decorating the town and cheerfully celebrating the holiday spirit, those of America's early years took a very indifferent stance on the celebration Christmas. As historian Nicole Harms put it:
Christmas in colonial America did not resemble the brightly lit festivities we celebrate today. In fact, many colonial religions banned celebrations of the holiday, claiming that it was tied to pagan traditions. The New England Puritans passed a law in Massachusetts that punished anyone who observed the holiday with a five-shilling fine. The Quakers treated Christmas Day as any other day of the year. The Presbyterians did not have formal Christmas Day services until they noticed that their members were heading to the English church to observe the Christmas services. This sparked the Presbyterian Church to start services of their own.
Nicole Harms is 100% right. The Puritans, whom we celebrate for their quest to establish a new religious community, utterly loathed the celebration of Christmas. Since their religious doctrine was predominantly based on strict adherence to the Bible, and since there is no mention of Christmas being celebrated in the Bible, the Puritans saw the holiday as a blasphemous heresy. Even the overwhelming majority of Puritan diaries reveal that December 25th was nothing more than an average day of work and worship in their corner of the New World. Not only could one be fined for celebrating Christmas, but in addition they could find themselves locked up in the stocks for up to four hours!

As more Europeans began migrating to British America, many of their Christmas customs naturally made the journey as well. However, as these customs clashed with overwhelming religious opposition, the celebration of Christmas evolved into a more secular winter festival that was reminiscent of its original pagan roots. As a result, Christmas was detached from any major religious significance. The overwhelming majority of colonial preachers -- particularly in the Puritan lands of Massachusetts -- made little to no effort to preach the "pagan" or "papal" doctrine surrounding Christmas. For those various Protestants, the Reformation had taken care of those "vile," "hideous" traditions of the papacy, and Christmas was certainly seen as one of them.

A good example of this American religious detachment from Christmas can be found in the first year of the American Revolution. As George Washington and his men limped away from their horrific defeat in New York at the end of 1776, the Continental Army was literally teetering on the brink of destruction. It wasn't until General Washington suggested a Christmas Day attack of the Hessian camps in Trenton that the "rebels" were able to gain a measure of success in the war's first year. And why did Washington choose Christmas for his attack? Because he knew that the Hessians, would be completely drunk and hung over from their Christmas celebration; a celebration that was completely secular in nature. After all, Washington wasn't counting on the Hessians being caught up in prayer. Instead he was sure they would be drunk off their mind from their holiday ale.

In addition to Washington's wartime experience, it is also worth noting that Christmas was ignored in the halls of government. In the early years of the republic, members of Congress assembled on December 25th as if it were any other day. In fact, the earliest notes of the congress gave little or not mention to the Christmas holiday. This tradition would continue for the first 65 years of the nation's existence.

And such was the case for most colonial celebrations in America. Amongst the earliest settlers to the New World were the Jamestown explorers of 1607. And what did their first Christmas in the New World entail? Well, pretty much nothing but getting as drunk as possible. John Smith mentioned how the popular holiday drink that we call eggnog (we've discussed the history of eggnog in an earlier post) was the primary source for "jolliness" during their Christmas season. The Jamestown drink, known as "grog," was a slang for any beverage containing run. Later, the word was eventually changed to "nog," and has been present at every Christmas festival since.

In conclusion, there can be little argument that many of the festivities that we use to commemorate Christmas are deeply rooted in pagan tradition. In today's society this is hardly noticed, but in Colonial America it was a well known fact, which turned many Christians off to the holiday. It wasn't until the late part of the 19th century that Christmas took on its central role as the premiere American religious holiday. For literally centuries, Christmas was a quasi-holiday, often ignored by the masses. Christian churches were less zealous to see it celebrated than they are today. If our ancestors could only see us now!!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Gingerbread, Lovely Gingerbread

When it comes to celebrating the holidays, gingerbread is to Christmas what the American flag is to the 4th of July. In all of its variety, gingerbread has delighted generations of Christmas-loving Americans, who dream of little candy homes and colorful little stick figures.

Even our colonial ancestors got a piece of the gingerbread action! Gingerbread, which has traditionally been one of the most popular Christmas treats, was used to decorate both the homes and trees of early American colonists. The very first printed cookbooks, which were printed in the late 1400s, even carried a number of recipes for making gingerbread, which was thought to be an extremely healthy snack. In Germany, gingerbread took the name lebkuchen which means life bread because of its perceived health benefits.

In colonial America, the making of gingerbread was based on the traditional methods of Europe, primarily England, where bakers traditionally carved an assortment of shapes and designs out of their popular treat. Gingerbread men, which were traditionally cut into the shapes of various saints, were used to decorate one's home in commemoration of the respective saint's achievements. For the impoverished masses in both England and America, gingerbread men/houses were far too expensive to be enjoyed. As a result, bakers cut small strips of gingerbread or used the leftovers from their gingerbread men/houses to make "snaps." These "snaps" were often dunked in alcohol, much to the delight of the poor customer.

Yes, gingerbread truly enjoys a history that not only dates back to our colonial ancestors, but all the way back to our European roots, which, like a number of traditions, has taken on a unique American twist. With a heritage like this, gingerbread is sure to enjoy a starring role in the American celebration of Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Nativity Story: Why do We Get it so Very Wrong?

For today's Christmas installment on the history of Christmas, we take a look at the historical validity/invalidity of one of the most treasured symbols of the Christmas season: the Nativity. As we all know from our Sunday School lessons, Mary and Joseph made their way to Bethlehem, which was completely overcrowded due to Caesar Augustus' decree that "all the world should be taxed." Upon their arrival, Joseph was unable to find shelter for his wife and soon-to-be infant son. As a result, Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable. Soon thereafter, three wise men came from the east bearing gifts, as did a number of shepherds and other onlookers.

Seems straight forward enough, right?

Not quite. Oh, how often popular culture loves to distort historical fact!

And while popular culture is often more appealing to our emotional side, I maintain that historical integrity, no matter how different it is from our preconceived notions, is and always will be superior. So, with this in mind, let's dissect the Nativity story shall we!

To begin our quest for a better understanding of the Nativity we must first understand the historical records available to us, along with their context and significance. As can be expected, the majority of the material surrounding the birth of Jesus comes from the Bible, but you might be surprised to know that it only comes from the books of Matthew and Luke. Mark and John, for whatever reason, are completely silent on the birth of Christ. In addition, it is also important for us to recognize that the records surrounding the birth of Jesus in Matthew and Luke are actually quite contradictory. The only general consensus we can glean from the two is that Mary gave birth to an infant son in Bethlehem, and that his birth was hailed as a miracle by those who witnessed it. We will discuss these differences between Mark and John further in a moment.

In addition, it is important for us to understand when and why the documents surrounding the birth of Jesus were written. For example, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which contain the biblical stories of Jesus' birth, were actually written many years after the actual birth of Christ. Matthew for example, was written somewhere between the years 70-100 A.D., while Luke's date (which is debated by scholars) is most likely between 37-70 A.D. This is important to consider because we must keep in the back of our minds that these records were written many years after the fact, and relied heavily upon heresay and second hand accounts. In addition, virtually all of the early writings by the earliest Christians (including the stuff not added to the Bible) centered specifically on Christs teachings, death and resurrection. Little to no emphasis was placed on his birth. Simply put, it wasn't a priority for the earliest Christian writers.

The Birthday of Jesus
Now, with the actual documents in hand, we must attempt to reckon the traditional Nativity story with historical fact. The first point to consider: the year of Christ's birth. As tradition and the early church tells us, Jesus was born in the year 1 A.D. This date, however, is a complete and total historical impossibility. For example, the gospels tell us that Jesus was born in the days of Herod. History proves that Herod died in the year 4 B.C., which would make any birth of Jesus after that date a historical farce. In addition, Luke makes mention of Cyrenius, who was "governor of Syria" according to Luke (see Luke 2:2). Cyrenius was actually not the governor per se, but had been sent to Palestine by order of Augustus to oversee the Roman census of 8-7 B.C. Thus, Luke would have naturally seen Cyrenius as the head honcho of sorts, since he was essentially acting as the governor at that time.

Another additional detail that helps us know the date of Jesus' birth is the Roman Census. In Luke, it states that a decree went up that "all the world should be taxed." This is actually not 100% accurate. It was a decree for a census, not a tax. Roman taxes were never collected in this fashion. All of the historical data indicates that this was a census. And when was that census? Augustus issued two different census counts (in 8 and 4 B.C.) As mentioned above, the most likely census that Joseph and Mary attended would have been 4 B.C.

And one final piece to the puzzle. The "star" in the heavens, which guided the Magi (wise men) to the location of Christ's birth. Modern astrology has revealed that during the same time as the Roman census of 4 B. C., both Jupiter, Saturn and Mars crossed in front of one another on three different occasions, which would have created a cosmic site to behold for ancient man. However, there is another likely scenario. From April to June of 6 B.C., both Jupiter and Venus crossed paths, creating a spectacular cosmic "new star," or so it would seemed to ancient man. In addition, this "new star" would have appeared directly over the land of the Jews if you were viewing it from the perspective of the Persian east. And from where did the wise men (Magi) come? This all would have had huge significance to the eastern magi, since they were literally obsessed with the stars. It therefore comes as no surprise that Herod would inquire of them regarding the "star's" significance (Matthew 2:7). Oh, and on a side note, the idea of THREE wise men is pure legend. Nobody has a clue how many of them there actually were.

And let us not forget that there were "Shepherds in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke 2:8). Why is this significant? It indicates that Jesus' birth probably took place in the spring or early summer, since this was the time that shepherds would tend to their flocks all night long.

So when was Jesus actually born? Based on the evidence, the "best guess" would be between April and June of 6 B.C.

"There was no room in the inn"

Ok, so the question of when Jesus was born can be better answered by appealing to the historical record. What about the where? Here is where the biblical accounts of Matthew and Luke seem to disagree. In Matthew there is no mention that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem, but rather it sort of insinuates that they already resided in the city. Luke, however, clearly states that Joseph and Mary, "went up from Galilee, out of Nazareth" and into Bethlehem as part of the census (Luke 2:4). This seems a bit bizarre, since a Roman census would expect to include the actual location where a citizen chose to reside. Why would Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem for a census? In addition, why would Joseph haul his VERY pregnant wife all the way to Bethlehem, especially when the last months of pregnancy a Jewish woman is expected to sequester herself with only the company of fellow women? And where do we get this idea that the birth of Jesus was somehow rushed? Almost like a quasi-emergency?

In addition to these questions, we also must eliminate a very large and thoroughly accepted myth surrounding the Nativity scene. In Luke 2:7 it states:
"And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."
This verse is very telling from a historical perspective, but is also unfortunately very loaded with modern preconceptions. For a modern reader, this verse seems clear enough. Mary gave birth to Jesus, swaddled him to keep him warm, placed him in a trough of some sort, since all of the inn's were full that night.

Now let's try a reading from the ANCIENT world's perspective.

Mary (who's Aramaic name would have been pronounced Mariam or Maryam) is a young girl of 14-17 years of age. She's scared for her life because an estimated 30% of women in the ancient world die from child labor. As a result, she is surrounded by the women she trusts most in her life (possibly a mother, aunt, etc.) Childbirth is exclusively a woman's role in the ancient world, so Joseph is possibly waiting outside. Upon delivering the baby, Mary and the other women quickly wrap Jesus tightly in long strips of cloth to not only protect the baby but also as part of Jewish birth ritual. Mariam (Mary) possibly places Jesus in a hay-filled trough of sorts, but most likely simply holds the infant close. The manger, which comes from the Greek word Phatne is not mentioned because in all likelihood Mary, Jesus and everyone else is already IN the manger. Phatne is actually translated to mean stable or animal stall In the ancient world, peasant families usually lived in two level homes. The animals lived below in the dirt, mud, etc., while the people lived above in an INN. So, Jesus was born in the phatne (i.e. stable area below) because there was no room for Mary to give birth in the INN above.

This historical revision of the nativity makes much more sense, especially when we consider the reality that Bethlehem, in the time of Jesus, was a small town and would not have had INN's. Our modern reading is skewed in this regard. Joseph did not go looking for an INN. We seem to be under a delusion that the ancient world had a Holiday Inn or something like it in every city. They did not. This also makes sense when we consider that the wise men (Magi) came not immediately after the birth of Jesus, but possibly months or even years after the occasion took place. Naturally, they went to the home of Joseph and Mary, not some hotel or cave.

And while the popular culture's view of the Nativity story is more exciting, it is important to remember that even if history debunks the "myths" surrounding Christ's birth the most important of all factors remains: Jesus Christ was in fact born on the earth. Even if it wasn't in a cave off on the side of the road in Bethlehem, since all the hotels were full, the birth of Jesus was a miracle. Planets crossed paths at the exact moment, a young teenage peasant girl survived the rigors of childbirth, and a Savior entered the world. It can't get much better than that.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Festival of Lights, Part V: The Washington/Hanukkah Story

As I have mentioned in previous postings, colonial society had a very different take on the celebration of Christmas. For various reasons, Christmas was not held in the same regard as it currently is in American society. In fact, the first 68 years of American government saw Congress gathered and busy at work on the 25th of December. Many early American religions even refused to celebrate the holiday, considering it more of a pagan celebration than a Christian one.

And while Christianity was certainly the predominant religion of Early colonial America, it was not the exclusive faith of the New World. We know that literally thousands of immigrants from Europe carried a vast assortment of religious practices with them to the American colonies, creating a veritable cornucopia of religious beliefs. One of the many groups that is often forgotten are the colonial Jews. Though far from a majority, the Jewish population was spread throughout colonial New England. What is most remarkable about the Jewish population was their devotion to the ideals of the American Revolution. Many of them embraced John Winthrop's preaching that America was to be "a city on a hill." For them, America's quest for independence was reminiscent of David's quest to establish Jerusalem.

A small number of Jewish soldiers fought in the revolution with the Continental Army. In fact, rumor has it (though the rumor is based on zero evidence and is mostly a fable) that General George Washington first learned of Hanukkah while at Valley Forge. The rumor states that General Washington was intrigued by a private's odd looking candlestick. Upon questioning the private, Washington learned of the Jewish holiday known as Hanukkah. Allegedly the solder recounted to the General the history of Hanukkah, and how the holiday commemorated the victory of the Jews over a superior tyrannical force. As the legend goes, Washington then thanks the private by responding, "Perhaps we are not as lost as our enemies would have us believe. I rejoice in the Macabees' success, though it is long past...It pleases me to think that miracles still happen."

Washington is said to have been so impressed that he later paid this same private a visit after the war. The name of the solder, though virtually impossible to prove, has also become a topic of debate among historians. In fact, the whole Hanukkah tale itself has attracted both supporters and skeptics, each hoping to prove -- or disprove -- the validity of Washington's first encounter with Hanukkah. As for the evidence, the only actual mentioning of this tale comes from the diary of one Michael Hart -- no relation to me -- and his daughter, Louisa. Allegedly, both Hart and his daughter recorded in their diaries the story of their meeting with General Washington in 1778. It was at this meeting that General Washington supposedly told the Hart's of his recent learning of the Hanukkah story. Hart, who was a prominent Jewish merchant, recorded that the General visited his home in Easton, Pennsylvania during the middle part of the Hanukkah celebration. The book, Jews on the Frontier: An Account of Jewish Pioneers and Settlers in Early America, attempts to provide some evidence (though later proved to be falsified evidence) of the alleged visit:
"It was at his [Michael Hart’s] house that Washington accepted an invitation to lunch while tarrying for a few hours in the town. The late Miss Louisa B. Hart, his daughter, thus proudly records the event in her diary: “Let it be remembered that Michael Hart was a Jew, practically, pious, a Jew reverencing and strictly observant of the Sabbath and Festivals; dietary laws were also adhered to, although he was compelled to be his own Shochet. Mark well that he, Washington, the then honored as first in peace, first in war, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, even during a short sojourn became for the hour the guest of the worthy Jew."
And while this account was later proved to be a complete fraud (the alleged Hart diaries don't even exist and Lovisa Hart wasn't even born) the Valley Forge Hanukkah story does at least fit with the character of America's first Commander-in-Chief as being a man of sincere religious tolerance. In a letter to a Tench Tilghman, Washington states that he has no problem with the religion -- or lack of religion -- of a group of tradesmen that he hoped to employ. Washington writes:
Dear Sir: I am informed that a Ship with Palatines is gone up to Baltimore, among whom are a number of Trademen. I am a good deal in want of a House Joiner and Bricklayer, (who really understand their profession) and you would do me a favor by purchasing one of each, for me. I would not confine you to Palatines. If they are good workmen, they may be of Asia, Africa, or Europe. They may be Mahometans, Jews or Christian of any Sect, or they may be Athiests [my emphasis].
And in a letter to the Swedenborgians, Washington again reveals his tolerance for a diverse form of religious beliefs:
We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. In this enlightened Age & in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man's religious tenets, will not forfeit his protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining & holding the highest offices that are known in the United States [my emphasis].
Yes, America's first Commander-in-Chief cared very little about the orthodoxy/"heresy" of his fellow citizens...including the Jews during Hanukkah!

Yo-Ho-Ho and a Bottle of...Eggnog?

A Brief History on America's
Favorite Christmas Beverage


The Christmas season has had a long association with an assortment of delicious holiday treats. Everything from candy canes to gingerbread men, fruitcake to fruit baskets have delighted the palates of generations of Americans. One of the most popular items during the Christmas season is eggnog. In fact, over the course of the next couple of weeks, Americans will consume 2 billion gallons of eggnog at various parties, gatherings, etc. Yes, many a family will gather around their Christmas tree this season to enjoy a tall, cool glass of rich eggnog.

But just how "Christmassy" and American is eggnog?

Eggnog did not take long to make its first appearance in America. At Jamestown, John Smith mentioned how popular the drink was for the settlers during the Christmas season. Though not celebrated in the same fashion as today, Christmas still provided the Jamestown settlers with an excuse to drink "grog." Grog was colonial slang for any beverage containing rum (brings a new meaning to the expression of feeling "groggy" in the morning). Eventually, the word was changed to "nog." In addition, eggnog probably descended from the English drink "posset" or "sack posset," which was a hot drink made with sweetened milk and ale and was often mixed with eggs.

In a recent article on colonial Christmas, historian Jeff Westover explained the role eggnog played in colonial Christmas traditions:
Eggnog was one of the most common holiday traditions of Colonial America. Before there were Christmas trees, before there was Santa Claus, and long before there was ever a national holiday called Christmas there was the annual tradition of eggnog.

Eggnog definitely has ties to old England and the time-honored tradition of wassail. Though different from wassail, which used fruits as a base, eggnog's consistent ingredient has always been eggs. But aside from the eggs and milk or cream, eggnog of the 18th century could contain any manner of wine, beer, ale or other spirits. Spices, most notably nutmeg, were also constants.

George Washington's recipe called for one quart of cream, one quart of milk, a dozen eggs, one pint of brandy, a half pint of rye, a quarter pint of rum and a quarter pint of sherry. He was famous, especially after the Revolutionary War, for holding festive Christmas gatherings featuring his unique brand of eggnog.
So as you are celebrating Christmas with your family and you serve yourself a tall glass of delicious eggnog, remember that you are in good company. Americans since the beginning were doing the same.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cooking With Corazon, Episode XVI

Carmel Apple
Pork Chop


One of the interesting things I noticed about my wife after marrying her was the fact that she would put applesauce on her pork chops. At first it seemed strange and even a little nasty, but I tried it one day and must admit that it was pretty good. Anyway, I came across the following recipe (which may at first glance seem a little strange) but was actually pretty good:



Here's the recipe:

- 4 pork chops
- 2 apples (sliced)
- 1/2 cup pecans
- 4 tbs. brown sugar
- 4 tbs butter
- 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Directions:

- Grill up the pork chops and set aside.
- Melt butter in the same pan after removing pork.
- Mix brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and add to butter along with apples and cook until soft.
- Once cooked, allow apples to sit aside and thicken up, then serve on top of pork.
-Scarf!!!

Pretty darn good! The only thing I would change is I would use granny smith apples instead of the red ones (a little more tart).

Buen Provecho!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Festival of Lights: Part IV

Latkes

My apologies for not being able to post yesterday. I ended up being pretty busy with other things. Anyway, here is my 4th installment for Hanukkah (I guess I am going to end up a day behind on all of these):

Like Christmas, Hanukkah is celebrated with its own unique traditions, games and most importantly...FOOD! As most people already know, Hanukkah's "big gun" food (the equivalent of the Christmas fruit cake I guess) are latkes.

Typically, latkes are made from potatoes that are sliced (grated) into small pieces. The potatoes are then usually mixed with flour, eggs, salt, and sometimes a bit of green onion. Next, the latkes are patted into patties, usually approximately 2 inches in size or so. They are then cooked in oil (preferably olive) for a couple of minutes, topped with sour cream, sugar or any other desired topping, and then SCARFED!

The tradition of eating latkes is actually quite old. Although the earliest latkes were not made of potatoes (potatoes, of course, didn't come onto the scene until after the discovery of America) latkes have always been cooked in oil as a way to celebrate the miracle of the menorah oil. The traditional foods consumed during the Hanukkah holiday are symbolic of the events being celebrated. Most are fried in oil, symbolic of the oil that lasted eight days. Pancakes are a traditional dish, serving as a reminder of the food hurriedly prepared for the Maccabees as they went into battle, along with the oil they are fried in as a reminder of the miraculous oil.

Click here to see a few excellent recipes for latkes.

Merry Saturnalia (and a Happy Pagan New Year)

The holiday season is fully upon us, and with it the "cups of good cheer," mistletoe, holly wreaths, etc. Yes, Christmas is not only a wonderful time of the year but also one of the most celebrated holidays in the world. Over 2 billion people on the globe join together in singing their praise of the birth of Jesus Christ.

But just how "Christian" is Christmas? We all remember our Sunday School lessons about Mary and Joseph wrapping the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes and placing him in a manger. And don't forget the star and the three wise guys...er...men, who journeyed from afar to witness this December...er...spring miracle.

To understand the TRUE history behind the holiday we call Christmas, we must travel to a time when the world was dominated by pagan doctrine and Roman might. Long before Mary and Joseph made their trek to Bethlehem to pay their taxes...er...be counted in the imperial census, Roman society (along with other European groups) embraced a few interesting (and familiar) holiday traditions that may come as a surprise to the devout Christian of our modern era. So, let us pretend for a moment that we have ventured back in time to late antiquity and witness how these various European societies celebrated their winter holidays.

Our first stop in our voyage back in time will take us to one of the greatest civilizations known to man: Rome. The date is December 17th and the streets are full of celebration and jubilation. It is Saturnalia: a holiday dedicated to the pagan god Saturn, who has been loosen from his bonds during the festivities so that he can enjoy the fruits of the offerings given to him. As the god of the harvest/agriculture, Saturn is praised by the masses from having provided a bountiful harvest.

To celebrate the occasion, Roman citizens gave up their traditional toga and adorned themselves with more festive clothing. Traditionally, the clothing was green and decorated with leaves, flowers and berries. Men and women regularly took holly berries and branches and turned them into wreathes, which they placed on their heads, believing that they had the power to ward off evil spirits. It was also common in homes throughout the Roman empire to have their halls "decked" with holly in order to keep them safe from the wrath of the gods.

In addition, Saturnalia was also marked by the temporary freeing of slaves, who would often (in pure fun) switch places with their masters. Public demonstrations of sex, gambling, drunkenness were commonplace, while many other laws, which were normally punishable, were temporarily allowed (in some cases even rape). Simply put, Saturnalia became the ancient world's version of Mardi Gras.

Along with the revelry and laissez-faire Roman policies governing these holidays, many Roman citizens also took to adorning evergreen trees as part of the festival of Saturnalia. It was common for wealthy Roman families to decorate a tree with candles, silver and gold lace and to have it nailed to the floor of their home. This "Saturnalia Tree" became a symbol of Rome's collective petition to the gods for a bountiful new year. The Jews (and early Christians), refused to embrace such pagan beliefs and even preached against them. As the Bible itself states in Jeremiah 10:2-4:
2.) Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

3. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

4.) They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
And while the common person was busy celebrating Saturnalia, the elites of Roman society also celebrated the birth of Mithras: the god of the unconquerable sun, whose birth fell on December 25th. For many, this was the holiest day of the year and celebrating his birth was done in the hopes that Mithra would return in full power (summer) to bless their harvest, etc.

Now that we've had our "Saturnalia fix," let us move up north a bit and enter the Norse/Celtic/Germanic regions, where the winter holidays were celebrated with just as much festivity as their Roman neighbors. For many who dwelt in the Rhineland, the celebration of Yule (or Yule-tide) took place in late December and lasted for usually twelve days (hence the Twelve days of Christmas). During the celebration of Yule, people gathered in their homes to burn the Yule Log in the hearth of their home (a tradition that eventually spread all the way to the British isles). The Yule Log was occasionally even carved into a penis shape due to the fact that some (albeit smaller) Celtic communities believed the Yule Log had the ability to impregnate.

Even our "blessed" Mistletoe has its roots in the ancient world. In both Celtic and Druidic rituals, mistletoe (which blooms in winter) was believed to be a powerful sexual stimulant. Ancient legends maintained that the juices found in the mistletoe berries were, in fact, the semen of the gods. As a result, it was believed that if a man held the mistletoe over a woman's head she would be unable to resist his sexual advances (a far cry from a simple kiss). In essence, mistletoe became the ancient world's date rape drug. Exciting!

Along with the funny looking Yule logs and sexual plants, many Germanic communities also believed that the god Odin (Lugas in Celtic England), who patrolled the skies during those cold winter nights, would decide who should prosper and suffer, live and die in the following year (a.k.a. "going to find out who's naughty or nice"). Later, of course, Odin would be woven in with other figures to give us Santa Clause, but that's a topic for another day.

So maybe you are wondering how the birth of Christ got entangled in this pagan mess. The answer is pretty basic. Once Rome became a Christian nation, the newly established Christian church found itself in competition with the entrenched pagan traditions of Roman, German and other Nordic, communities. Instead of abolishing festivals like Saturnalia, the church simply decided to embrace the holiday, but added its own elements. For example, the evergreen trees that were taken into homes were adorned with apples in an effort to symbolize the Garden of Eden (later these became ornaments). Stories of pagan gods were replaced with tales of elves, gift-giving, etc., all which eventually evolved to give us many of our current holiday symbols.

And Since none of the gospels mention specifically when Jesus was actually born, early Christian church leaders simply adopted his birth to fit an already existing holiday. Pope Gregory the Great and other early and influential popes, established the earliest foundations for converting Saturnalia into CRISTES MAESSE (which eventually evolved in the English version to CHRIST-MASS and then Christmas), called for the removal of older pagan gods to be replaced with the Christian ones. It was believed that Christ's birth would eventually replace the festival of Saturnalia and abolish its traditions. The early church was at least half right in this respect. While the implementation of Christmas eventually led to the demise of Saturnalia, the pagan traditions and celebrations remained intact, and many still permeate our celebration of Christmas to this day. In fact, if we were to see some of the earliest Christmas celebrations of the Medieval world, we would be surprised to see how similar it was to a carnival or to Halloween. Most Christians of the Middle Ages continued the ancient celebrations of Saturnalia and Yule by indulging in public drinking, lascivious sex and dressing up like demons. For over two millennia the Christmas/Saturnalia Mardi Gras never let up!

In conclusion, while many of the TRADITIONS of Christmas remain rooted in ancient pagan beliefs, there is no doubt that the SPIRIT of Christmas is something quite different. My intention for writing this was NOT to discredit the celebrating of Christmas. Quite the contrary. I believe that understanding the TRUTH of the Christmas season can actually aid in our celebration of Jesus' birth. After all, it's never been about trees, gifts, flowers etc.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Day 3 of the Hart Family Hanukkah

Just a few small highlights:







And a nice little video that includes what is arguably the most popular Hanukkah song of all-time, "Oh Hanukkah:"

The Festival of Lights, Part III: Did Jesus Celebrate Hanukkah?

To be honest, the answer is pretty forthright: Yes, Jesus probably celebrated Hanukkah. As a Jew, it would seem logical for Jesus (who participated in other Jewish holidays) to have also lit the menorah come wintertime.

When attempting to answer this question it is important that we first attempt to uncover when Hanukkah was officially proclaimed a Jewish holiday. In 167 B.C., Emperor Antiochus (we spoke of him in more detail in an earlier post) established an altar to Zeus within the walls of the Jewish temple. The consequences were dramatic to say the least. Led by Mattathias (a Jewish priest) and his five sons, the more orthodox portion of the Jewish community violently revolted against this "heathen" mockery of their holy temple. To make a long story short, by 165 B.C. the revolt had proved a complete success as the last remnants of Seleucid domination were eradicated. It was Judas Maccabee, son of Mattathias, who established Hanukkah as a national holiday. Since that day, Hanukkah has been celebrated by the Jews worldwide.

Now, the mere fact that Hanukkah had been established prior to Christ's birth does not therefore mean that Jesus himself celebrated the holiday. To prove such a claim we would have to find actual evidence of his involvement with the "Festival of Lights." Well, it just so happens that such evidence does exist; in the Christian bible of all places. In John chapter 10 Jesus gives his famous "Good Shepherd" discourse in which he speaks eloquently about his sheep and how they know and follow him. The chapter is one of the more regularly cited chapters in all of the Bible. But there are a couple of verses that don't receive a lot of attention. After Jesus concludes his "Good Shepherd" discourse we read:
19 There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings.

20 And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him?

21 Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?

22 And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.

23 And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon's porch.
So what is the "feast of the dedication?" It can only be one of two things: either an actual dedication of the Jewish temple (which it was not, since the only temple dedication that happened near Jesus' lifetime was during the reign of Nehemiah, which occurred in the spring), or it refers to the "Feast of the Maccabees," or the "Feast of the Lights": a.k.a. HANUKKAH! If you recall, Hanukkah is known as the "Festival of Lights" and literally translates to "dedication." In addition, verse 22 points out the fact that Jesus attended this feast during the winter. The Jewish month of Kislev (Hanukkah is always held on the 25th of Kislev) takes place in the winter. Also, we read how Jesus was at the temple on "Solomon's porch," which was a place where Jews often congregated to discuss matters of faith. In addition, it was also the place where many congregated to light the candles of the menorah.

And while it may come as a surprise to many Christians that Hanukkah is alluded to in the New Testament (while Christmas is not. In fact, Christmas didn't come into existence until at least 354 A.D.), the fact remains that Jesus himself most likely participated in the "Festival of Lights."

So here is my question: if we can make a strong case for Jesus celebrating Hanukkah, why don't Christians today do the same? I'm not trying to cause theological strife here, rather I am simply asking the question. If I were to answer this question for myself I would speculate that the reason is quite simple: the early Christians, who established Christmas in an effort to counter the wide appeal of pagan holidays like Saturnalia, had no need to combat Jewish holidays. After all, Medieval Europe was overwhelmingly pagan. Any attempt to convert these pagans to Christianity would require a theological war of sorts against the doctrines of paganism. And since Judaism was not a large religion in the region, Hanukkah wasn't a threat. After all, no pagan celebrated the "Festival of Lights," so there was no need to combat it.

Either way, the fact remains: Jesus probably celebrated Hanukkah.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Festival of Lights: Part II

"Oh Hanukkah, oh Hanukkah
Come Light the Menorah"


Day 2 of the "Festival of Lights" is upon us:


When it comes to celebrating Hanukkah, most people recognize the menorah as a significant component to this Jewish festival -- almost like a Jewish version of a Christmas tree.

Well, it's not a Christmas tree, nor is it some pretty decoration used once a year to light one's window. The reality is that the menorah has a very special purpose which is central to the Hanukkah festival.

As you can tell from the picture above, or from any menorahs you may have seen in the past, the Hanukkah Menorah has a total of nine candle holders, four on the right and left side with the "Shamash" candle being raised in the middle -- though this isn't a requirement. Many menorahs position the Shamesh in different locations.

How to Light a Menorah

In reality, there is quite a lot of "etiquette" when it comes to lighting the menorah. First, the menorah should be positioned near a window facing the street or on the left-hand side of your home. Next, it should always be remembered that the menorah is NOT to be lit until nightfall. Once nightfall has come you begin lighting the menorah by placing the first candle on the far right. Next, you must light the Shamash candle, which is used to light all of the other candles on the menorah (it is important to remember that you DO NOT light the candles on the menorah via a match, etc. The Shamash is what lights the other candles). Though the Shamash (or "attendant" candle) has the primary function of lighting the other candles, it is not extinguished so that in case a candle blows out, the Shamash could be used again to relight it. In addition, Hanukkah lights are forbidden to be used for any practical reason (they are exclusively used for the celebration) so if a candle were ever needed for any practical reason the Shamash would be employed (obviously this isn't too important in our modern day, but it was in ancient times).

Once the Shamash has been lit, all family, fiends, etc. gather around the menorah and recite the following blessings:
Blessing 1:
Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam Asher Kiddeshanu Be-mitsvotav Ve-tsivanu Lehadlik Ner Shel khanuka

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.


Blessing 2:
Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam She-asa Nissim La-avoteynu Ba-yyamim Ha-hem Ba-zzman Ha-zze

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season.


Blessing 3:
Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam She-hekheyanu Ve-kiymanu Ve-higgi'anu La-zzman Ha-zze

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this time.


***It is important to note that the 3rd blessing is only recited on the FIRST night of Hanukkah, while the 1st and 2nd blessings are recited each night.***
One the blessings are pronounced, the Hanukkah candles are lit (again, with the Shamash), after which most observers will recite the "Hanerot Hallalu" prayer/song, which is as follows:
Al hanissim ve'al haniflaot
Al hatshu-ot ve'al hamilchamot
She-asita la'avoteynu
Bayamim hahem, bazman hazeh
Al yedey kohanecha hakdoshim.

Vechol shmonat yemey Chanukah
Hanerot halalu kodesh hem,
Ve-ein lanu reshut lehishtamesh bahem
Ela lirotam bilvad
Kedai lehodot leshimcha
Al nissecha veal nifleotecha ve-al yeshuotecha.

We light these lights
For the miracles and the wonders,
For the redemption and the battles
That you made for our forefathers
In those days at this season,
Through your holy priests.

During all eight days of Chanukah
These lights are sacred
And we are not permitted to make
Ordinary use of them,
But only to look at them;
In order to express thanks
And praise to Your great Name
For your miracles, Your wonders
And your salvations.
Following the Hanerot Hallalu, many families will continue to sing traditional Hanukkah songs, recite various Psalms, and exchange gifts. The menorah candles are allowed to burn for AT LEAST 30 minutes.

On the following days of Hanukkah, a new candle is added to the menorah (1 per day). Remember to add the next candle to the left of the previous one from the night before. When lighting these candles remember to always light the NEWEST candle first. And again, the first 2 blessings are given on nights 2-8, but the 3rd blessing is not.

That's it! You are now prepared to light the menorah!

Chag Urim Sameach!

Here is a video that provides a good illustration of how to properly light the menorah:

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Festival of Lights: Part I

It's official: today marks the beginning of Hanukkah! On this, the 25th day of Kislev (which falls on December 11th this year) Jews all across the world break out their Menorahs, Dreidels, etc. to celebrate "The Festival of Lights." And even though my family and I are not Jewish, we thought it would still be a lot of fun (and be educational) to celebrate the holiday for ourselves:

Day 1 in the books. Only 7 more to go!
Here is my oldest son (Jaxson) taking the "Shamash" candle to light the first candle of Hanukkah.

Being that today is the first official day of Hanukkah, I thought I might provide a very brief history of what Hanukkah signifies to the Jewish people.

In a nutshell, Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Jewish temple during the Maccabean revolt in the 2nd century B.C. In fact, the word "Hanukkah" itself means "dedication" or "consecration." It was during the reign of Antiochus IV, who was king of Seleucid Empire, that Jerusalem was engulfed in a quasi-civil war of sorts. The emergence of Hellenization, which had quickly caught on with a large portion of the Jewish community, came face-to-face with the more traditional (orthodox) lifestyles and teachings of the Jewish faith. In the wake of such a conflict, Emperor Antiochus chose to side with the Hellenized Jews; a move that was politically very beneficial. A passage from the second Book of the Maccabees illustrates just how profound Antiochus' decision was:
Not long after this the king sent an Athenian senator to force the Jews to abandon the customs of their ancestors and live no longer by the laws of God; also to profane the temple in Jerusalem and dedicate it to Olympian Zeus, and that on Mount Gerizim to Zeus the Hospitable, as the inhabitants of the place requested...They also brought into the temple things that were forbidden, so that the altar was covered with abominable offerings prohibited by the laws. A man could not keep the sabbath or celebrate the traditional feasts, nor even admit that he was a Jew. At the suggestion of the citizens of Ptolemais, a decree was issued ordering the neighboring Greek cities to act in the same way against the Jews: oblige them to partake of the sacrifices, and put to death those who would not consent to adopt the customs of the Greeks. It was obvious, therefore, that disaster impended. Thus, two women who were arrested for having circumcised their children were publicly paraded about the city with their babies hanging at their breasts and then thrown down from the top of the city wall. Others, who had assembled in nearby caves to observe the sabbath in secret, were betrayed to Philip and all burned to death. ~2 Maccabees 6: 1-11
To make a long story short, the Maccabees were upset at the Hellenization taking hold in Jerusalem and chose to revolt. Their revolt turned out to be a massive success, as the "enemies" of traditional Judaism were swept away. In the aftermath, however, the Jewish temple was (due to the "heathen" influences) in need of purification. According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil.

And over 2000 years later, Jews still celebrate this event by lighting the Menorah, giving thanks and enjoying "Eight Crazy Nights" of fun! And in the spirit of that fun, here is Adam Sandler's famous song to celebrate the holidays:



Day 1 down, 7 more to go!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Festival of Lights: Prelude

If you've followed this blog with any level of regularity I am sure you have noticed that I have a passionate interest in history, particularly religious history. For whatever reason I find religious history to be incredibly fascinating. Whether it takes the form of Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, etc., it is both important and interesting to understand why certain groups of people believe the way they do (and it's something that is desperately needed today, since religious intolerance seems to infect our society like a virus).

With that said, I am excited to announce that my family and I will be celebrating Hanukkah (Chanukah) this coming week. That's right, at sunset on the 11th (in just two days) we will be lighting the first candle on our Menorah! It is my hope that this celebration will not only prove educational for my two kids (ages 5 and 2) but also for my wife and I. Even though I have read the Hanukkah history a few times I believe that actually celebrating the Festival of Lights will prove even more meaningful. After all, reading and studying something is one thing but to apply it is something different entirely.

It is also worth mentioning here at the onset that I am NOT Jewish. However, I do believe that many Jewish teachings and holidays can prove extremely insightful and meaningful for the practicing Christian. After all, even Jesus probably celebrated Hanukkah in his day! In addition, I hope to give Hanukkah the respect it deserves by celebrating the holiday as accurate as possible.

Over the course of those "Eight Crazy Nights" I hope to record some of my family's thoughts, insight, etc. here on this blog. In addition, I will also be posting a few random things on the history of Hanukkah, some interesting Hanukkah stories, etc.

I hope you will all stay tuned (starting December 11th at sundown) and will find this activity of interest to you as well. Please, over the course of the next few days, feel free to contribute anything you'd like. I would love to hear your insight as well!

Chag Urim Sameach!

Revisiting Salem: Part II

The Geography of Witchcraft
by Brad Hart


For the second installment in my series on the Salem Witch Trials, I have decided to look at the geography of seventeenth-century Salem, which has become the centerpiece in William and Mary Quarterly’s July, 2008 review of the Salem historical record. To be more specific, it is Professor Benjamin C. Ray’s article entitled, The Geography of Witchcraft Accusations in 1692 Salem Village that has caught my attention.

In this particular article, Prof. Ray challenges some of the status quo interpretations of the Salem geographical record, and in particular questions the validity of the analysis offered by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum in their groundbreaking book, Salem Possessed. [1] As Prof. Ray points out, the most significant source for Boyer and Nissenbaum’s work was the 1867 book by Charles W. Upham, Salem Witchcraft, which included a detailed map of virtually all the households in Salem Village. [2] With this map, Boyer and Nissenbaum endeavored to demonstrate how specific geographic locations within Salem Village -- based primarily on economic and social differences -- led to the factionalism that ultimately divided Salem on the witchcraft issue. For roughly thirty years, Boyer and Nissenbaum’s work has served as the standard interpretation of the Salem Story.

In recent years, however, a number of scholars have come forward to challenge the interpretation offered in Salem Possessed. In 2002, renowned historian Mary Beth Norton published her book, In The Devil’s Snare, which served to challenge some of the assertions made by Boyer and Nissenbaum. As Norton states in the introduction of her book:
The influential "Salem Possessed" (1974), by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, attributes the crisis to long-standing political, economic, and religious discord among men of Salem Village, denying the significance of women’s prominence as both accused and accuser…In the Devil’s Snare contends that the dramatic events of 1692 can be fully understood only by viewing them as intricately related to concurrent political and military affairs in northern New England. [3]
In addition to Norton’s assertions, Prof. Ray points out that the traditional interpretation of the Upham map by Boyer and Nissenbaum is incomplete:
Contrary to Boyer and Nissenbaum’s conclusions in "Salem Possessed," geographic analysis of the accusations in the village shows there was no significant villagewide east-west division between accusers and accused in 1692. Nor was there an east-west divide between households of different economic status…

…Though is may appear that the "Salem Possessed" map carries the burden of the argument about the socioeconomic and geographic foundation of the witchcraft accusations, the map does not supply all the evidence…a total of thirteen accusers were omitted, this indicating that the map is incomplete and does not represent all the accusers.
[4]
Prof. Ray continues his argument by pointing out the inherently complex nature of geographical data. In his analysis, Ray claims that the map data included in Salem Possessed was conveniently construed to fit Boyer and Nissenbaum’s claims:
Boyer and Nissenbaum placed an all-important east-west demarcation line at the center of their map without explaining its precise location. The lack of explanation is curious because positioning the line slightly to the west would have made a significant difference in the crowded center of the map, shifting several As (a marker used to identify the accused) to the eastern side of the village. [5]
The rest of Prof. Ray’s article goes on to point out various omissions made by Boyer and Nissenbaum in their interpretation of the Upham map. In addition, the article argues that a geographical interpretation that seeks to divide Salem Village socially or economically is inherently too restrictive, and that future inquiryneeds to be set as free of interpretive assumptions as possible if scholars are to have a solid geographic foundation for further historical research.” [6]

Though truly a pioneering work that defined the historiography of the Salem Witch Trials for decades, Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum’s Salem Possessed should at least be seen as an incomplete take on the Salem saga.


Notes:
[1] Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft (Cambridge, Mass., 1974).

[2] Charles Upham, Salem Witchcraft: With an Account of Salem Village and a History of Opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Subjects, 2 vols. (Boston, Mass., 1867).

[3] Mary Beth Norton, In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (New York, 2002), 4-5.

[4] Benjamin C. Ray, “The Geography of Witchcraft Accusations in 1692 Salem Village,” in The William and Mary Quarterly, vol, LXV, no. 3, (July, 2008), 453.

[5] Ibid, 456.

[6] Ibid, 478.